Neighbors of Camden County's contaminated Kirkwood Lake got some good news and some bad news this week.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a proposed $14 million major cleanup of a federal Superfund site in Gibbsboro and Voorhees. The contaminated cluster of miles of land and waterways includes the county-owned lake.
The area, one of more than 100 Superfund sites remaining in New Jersey, was contaminated by paint-makers that operated in the area from the mid-1800s until the late 1970s.
Under the remediation plan announced Monday, contaminated soil at 33 residential properties will be excavated and replaced with clean soil.
The cleanup, funded by Sherwin-Williams, the last of the paint manufacturers at the site, could begin next year and take about three years to complete, said EPA spokesman Elias Rodriguez.
The soil and groundwater beneath the former paint manufacturing site are contaminated with lead, arsenic, and volatile organic compounds. Sediment in and near Hilliards Creek, which flows into the lake, also is contaminated with lead and arsenic.
The EPA has said the residents, including those by the lake, are not believed to be at any immediate health risk from the contamination.
"If the soil or groundwater under your home is contaminated, you really don't want to hear anything other than when it will be cleaned up, so it is encouraging that the EPA has now put forward a plan to accomplish that goal," U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross (D., Camden) said in a statement.
Voorhees resident Alice Johnston, president of the Kirkwood Lake Environmental Committee, welcomed news of the proposed cleanup plan. But she expressed frustration at the pace. The Sherwin-Williams plant closed in 1978.
"It's been over 30 years just waiting for this. It's been a very long time," Johnston said. "They're dragging their feet."
Residents may comment on the plan at a public meeting on June 11, and changes could be made if deemed warranted by the EPA, Rodriguez said.
The plan will be finalized after the public comment period has ended, he said.
Johnston, whose backyard is on the lake, said many homeowners are disappointed that the lake was not included in the proposed first phase of the cleanup. The lake borders Voorhees and Lindenwold.
In a statement, EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck said it was "imperative" to address the contamination on residential properties.
Because of the lake's position downstream of the contaminated areas and federal procedures, Kirkwood Lake's cleanup is likely years away.
Meanwhile, the lake has grown more shallow. Water lily-like spatterdocks are choking the waters and may eventually make the lake unsuitable for recreational use by boaters and fishermen.
"It's just gotten worse and worse," said Johnston, who has lived on the lake her entire life. "It will never survive another 15 years."
Johnston said she remains optimistic that an alternative plan may be reached between Sherwin-Williams and county officials to clean up the lake sooner.
Possible remedial actions include partial dredging to deepen the lake and keep it alive. A layer of contaminated sediment would be shipped away.
"It was a beautiful lake," Johnston said. "It's sad, just sad."
The EPA meeting to hear public comments on the cleanup proposal June 11 is set for 7 p.m. at the Gibbsboro Senior Center, 250 Haddonfield-Berlin Rd.
Until July 2, comments may also be e-mailed to Ray Klimcsak, remedial project manager for the EPA at firstname.lastname@example.org.