In the mid-1980s, the impact of three decades of uranium processing near rural Fernald, Ohio, 18 miles northwest of Cincinnati, became the centre of national public controversy. When a series of incidents at the uranium foundry brought to light the years of contamination to the environment and surrounding farmland communities, local citizens’ groups united and demanded a role in determining the plans for cleaning up the site. One citizens’ group, Fernald Residents for Environmental Safety and Health (FRESH), formed in 1984 following reports that nearly 300 pounds of enriched uranium oxide had been released from a dust-collector system, and three off-property wells south of the site were contaminated with uranium. For 22 years, FRESH monitored activities at Fernald and participated in the decision-making process with management and regulators. The job of FRESH ended on 19 January this year when the U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson — flanked by local, state, and national elected officials, and citizen-led environmental watchdog groups including FRESH — officially declared the Fernald Site clean of all nuclear contamination and open to public access. It marked the end of a remarkable turnaround in public confidence and trust that had attracted critical reports from around the world: the Cincinnati Enquirer; U.S. national news programs 60 Minutes, 20/20, Nightline, and 48 Hours; worldwide media outlets from the British Broadcasting Company and Canadian Broadcasting Company; Japanese newspapers; and German reporters. When personnel from Fluor arrived in 1992, the management team thought it understood the issues and concerns of each stakeholder group, and was determined to implement the decommissioning scope of work aggressively, confident that stakeholders would agree with its plans. This approach resulted in strained relationships with opinion leaders during the early months of Fluor’s contract. To forge better relationships, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) who owns the site, and Fluor embarked on three new strategies based on engaging citizens and interested stakeholder groups in the decision-making process. The first strategy was opening communication channels with site leadership, technical staff, and regulators. This strategy combined a strong public-information program with two-way communications between management and the community, soliciting and encouraging stakeholder participation early in the decision-making process. Fluor’s public-participation strategy exceeded the “check-the-box” approach common within the nuclear-weapons complex, and set a national standard that stands alone today. The second stakeholder-engagement strategy sprang from mending fences with the regulators and the community. The approach for dispositioning low-level waste was a 25-year plan to ship it off the site. Working with stakeholders, DOE and Fluor were able to convince the community to accept a plan to safely store waste permanently on site, which would save 15 years of cleanup and millions of dollars in cost. The third strategy addressed the potentially long delays in finalizing remedial action plans due to formal public comment periods and State and Federal regulatory approvals. Working closely with the U.S. and Ohio Environmental Protection Agencies (EPA) and other stakeholders, DOE and Fluor were able to secure approvals of five Records of Decision on time – a first for the DOE complex. Developing open and honest relationships with union leaders, the workforce, regulators and community groups played a major role in DOE and Fluor cleaning up and closing the site. Using lessons learned at Fernald, DOE was able to resolve challenges at other sites, including worker transition, labour disputes, and damaged relationships with regulators and the community. It took significant time early in the project to convince the workforce that their future lay in cleanup, not in holding out hope for production to resume. It took more time to repair relationships with Ohio regulators and the local community. Developing these relationships over the years required constant, open communications between site decision makers and stakeholders to identify issues and to overcome potential barriers. Fluor’s open public-participation strategy resulted in stakeholder consensus of five remedial-action plans that directed Fernald cleanup. This strategy included establishing a public-participation program that emphasized a shared-decision making process and abandoned the government’s traditional, non-participatory “Decide, Announce, Defend” approach. Fernald’s program became a model within the DOE complex for effective public participation. Fluor led the formation of the first DOE site-specific advisory board dedicated to remediation and closure. The board was successful at building consensus on critical issues affecting long-term site remediation, such as cleanup levels, waste disposal and final land use. Fluor created innovative public outreach tools, such as “Cleanopoly,” based on the Monopoly game, to help illustrate complex concepts, including risk levels, remediation techniques, and associated costs. These innovative tools helped DOE and Fluor gain stakeholder consensus on all cleanup plans. To commemorate the outstanding commitment of Fernald stakeholders to this massive environmental-restoration project, Fluor donated $20,000 to build the Weapons to Wetlands Grove overlooking the former 136-acre production area. The grove contains 24 trees, each dedicated to “[a] leader(s) behind the Fernald cleanup.” Over the years, Fluor, through the Fluor Foundation, also invested in educational and humanitarian projects, contributing nearly $2 million to communities in southwestern Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. Further, to help offset the economic impact of the site’s closing to the community, DOE and Fluor promoted economic development in the region by donating excess equipment and property to local schools and townships. This paper discusses the details of the public-involvement program — from inception through maturity — and presents some lessons learned that can be applied to other similar projects.

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