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'Some sort of restorative justice is very important to me,' says Dayton Sustainability Manager, Meg Maloney, on remediation of local Superfund sites

Valleycrest Landfill at 950 Brandt Pike.
City of Dayton Sustainability Office
Valleycrest Landfill at 950 Brandt Pike.

Dayton's new sustainability manager, Meg Maloney, discusses progress, acknowledges predecessor's work, and updates on local Superfund sites.

The City of Dayton has a new sustainability manager. Meg Maloney has only been on the job for a few weeks but says she’s been able to hit the ground running because of much of the work outgoing manager, Mark Charles. This week, she spoke with us about where she goes from here and updates us on some local Superfund sites.

Meg Maloney: I think my predecessor has left us in a great position, so we have been really busy with a lot of sustainability projects. In August of 2020, we passed our sustainability plan, though since taking over an office, I've kind of just started some of our new projects that we're working on and continue the momentum from some of the projects from our sustainability plan.

Jerry Kenney: A personal level question, a lot of your education and career has been focused on sustainability efforts, so what drives you to this work?

MM: I'm very passionate about kind of the justice aspect of it. I believe that the problems that we're facing in regard to sustainability are very complex and affect people of color and minorities and low-income communities much more heavily than they do others. And so, I think I am passionate about ensuring that we create a more equitable future. And I know that a lot of these complex problems require people to think and collaborate in a way with others to try new ideas. And so I think I'm passionate about kind of the innovation side of it. I'm passionate about the people side, but also at the end of the day, I really love collaborating with others and I really love the teamwork aspect of it.

JK: You're dealing with city governments, which has a lot to do with expenditures revenue. So how does all of that play into what you look for in pursuing sustainability efforts?

MM: Well, I think like a big misinformation about sustainability work is that it's going to cost more money and oftentimes that's not the case. So, a lot of the work that I'm doing not only can help save the City of Dayton facilities funding, but also can save city residents money. And so that is kind of the projects that we've been tackling first are really around energy because that's where the savings come in. So not only is it good for the environment, reduces carbon emissions, but we can see direct savings to our city facility accounts but also to our city residents. So, I think that this program is actually like kind of propels itself in a funding sense because we are able to save money to then pull back into our sustainability programs, which then fund our next program. So our budget started on $0 and we have been able, aside from personnel and we have been able to not only save the city a lot of money, but bring income in in order to do that. The projects that we're working on.

JK: What are some of the challenges that you're facing as you move forward?

MM: I think that the biggest challenge is there's a lot of systems that have been in place traditionally or ways that people have done things traditionally, and you're really challenging those. And a lot of times too, people assume that it's going to be more work on the back end, or we've been doing this for a really long time. So, this is the most efficient way. And so, kind of the challenge that I have is how can I work with people to understand what processes they're doing and why they do those processes, but then tweaking them to be more efficient or more sustainable or to save more money. And so that's always hard for people.

But I don't I don't blame people because I'm a person that doesn't always like change. And so, I kind of am very empathetic when I talk with either residents or businesses or people within the city. And so being a sustainability manager, you have to be a people person. And so, change is sometimes hard. But that I think is the biggest challenge that we have in the sustainability field, is encouraging that change is actually going to be a good thing. I say 99.9% of the time it pays off and people at the end of the day are happy with the changes that we're making.

JK: And I guess finally, any other programs taking place or efforts taking place in your office that you care to highlight for us?

MM: Yes. So, we are about to drop a solar RFP to install solar - initially, we were going to put it on the Kitty Hawk golf course, and now we're actually using an old brownfield site. So the old Sherwin-Williams site that caught on fire in 1987, that site we're actually going to put solar on it. It also sits adjacent to the Kitty Hawk golf course, but also one of our largest energy users, which is the Miami treatment plant. So, we are going to be putting an RFP out for a developer to put solar on that. So not only will it reduce our carbon emissions, but also save the city up to $250,000 a year off our energy bills, which is great, that obviously helps taxpayers because that's not a thing that we have to pay ratepayers for water, which is exciting as well.

We are also working on, in partnership with the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission, we are doing a climate action plan for the region, which Village of Yellow Springs is included in? We have Fairborn. We have been working with a lot of the southern suburbs of Dayton as well, but there's going to be a regional climate action plan and then the city is also going to be doing our decarbonization plan. So we said that we want to essentially have zero emissions by 2050, but like, how are we actually going to do that? How are we going to get there? So, we're getting funding from the federal government to create a road map to declare how we can basically get our emissions down to zero, both for our city facilities but then also in the community. How can we help businesses do that too, if they're interested? We're also expanding our tree canopy in Dayton. And so we did a big tree planning around Earth Day, where we planted over 600 trees throughout Dayton, which is great.

JK: Your office is working on several fronts, dealing with a lot of issues but I particularly want to talk about your work around Old North Dayton and McCook Field. Can you provide an update on the status of our local Superfund Sites?

MM: So, Superfund is a designation from the EPA that means that a site is both environmentally and economically incredibly harmful. So the federal EPS is stepping in with a big, large pot of money, hence Superfund and they have to pay to remediate these projects. So, we have three located right next to each other in old, North Dayton and McCook Field. The first one that was declared a Superfund site was Valleycrest Landfill. So, we are so close to finishing remediation, it's been almost a 20, 25 year process, and they're currently capping the landfill. That should be done actually in August. I have been working with residents, they had actually first contacted our office to get involved because they wanted to do a community solar project that we have been working with the responsible parties on the site and the US EPA and a solar developer to actually see if we can create a solar array on that landfill site and also feed that in to provide a community benefit - so a discounted electric bill for residents living adjacent to the site.

The second Superfund site is the Behr Superfund site, which is in the old Chrysler facility. That one is very complicated because unlike Valley Crest, which is just contained to an area of land, there is actually underneath the homes and businesses within McCook Field. We have thankfully done preliminary remediation by putting in ventilation systems that clean the air so that it's safe for the residents or business or workers within those facilities. But we just applied for $1,000,000 grant, environmental justice grant to actually get rooftop solar to offset the ventilation systems because the average resident actually pays like 2 to 300 more dollars to run their ventilation systems. And so, we're trying to put solar on it to offset that cost. And then the last site is actually technically not in city limits, but that's up to the city of Dayton, and that's in the city of Riverside. That is our Valley Pike site and that has a similar issue to Behr with TCE is the name of the chemical that's going underneath homes and businesses.

So, we've been working with residents there. That's the newest Superfund site. So we have been educating residents about getting ventilation systems installed in their homes and businesses. Glad you brought that up, because that is probably one of my most passionate projects. Again, going back to kind of why I do this work centered around equity. I just feel like a Superfund site is a very unjust thing and it's no one's fault that they are living or working at these sites. And so how can I help ensure that we have not only proper cleanup, but then some sort of like restorative justice piece is very important to me.

JK: If you've got one of three Superfund sites that are nearing completion, I mean, I remember the earliest reporting on these sites, and these are problems that seem almost insurmountable so kudos to the city for staying on these for so long and staying focused through different administrations. What are you facing in the future, especially with the two sites that may go on for some time?

MM: Yes, I was going to say the unfortunate thing about Superfund sites is even after remediation happens, there's still ongoing maintenance and monitoring that needs to happen. So, for the two other sites, we are very passionate about residents giving comments. And so, something that I'm going to help do for the next site and Behr coming in the fall, is that the burial site? We're going to hold community meetings in partnership with McCook Field to show kind of what the plans are for how they're remediating the sites, give residents the ability to get input and site design critiques. For that site, there's going to be like these things called air spargers, which basically put oxygen into the ground, and it bubbles the chemical up so they can put it into the atmosphere where it dissipates and it's no longer a problem. But the air spargers are quite large and can sometimes be noisy and so ensuring that they're in proper places that they're not going to bother residents or businesses is important to us.

So, yeah, teaching residents how to submit comments and go through that process is really important. And then once that kind of finishes up, then we'll basically repeat the same thing at the Valley Pike site as well. Working very closely with the city of Riverside. They have been excellent partner in all of this as well. And then once those plans get approved, then they'll start doing installation of the remediation, in which part we hold a lot of community meetings to educate residents about what that's going to look like, what they're going to see here, kind of if it's going to impact them. Usually, remediations won't like that will not impact them because we've already done the ventilation systems. But just so people feel comfortable with kind of the process that we're going through. So that's kind of a big part of I guess my role is just facilitating conversations to ensure people are engaged in the conversation and also know what's happening.

JK: It sounds like you're off to a great start with plenty to do. Meg Maloney is a manager with the Office of Sustainability for the City of Dayton. Thanks for your time and all the great information today.

MM: Yeah, thanks for having me.

Jerry began volunteering at WYSO in 1991 and hosting Sunday night's Alpha Rhythms in 1992. He joined the YSO staff in 2007 as Morning Edition Host, then All Things Considered. He's hosted Sunday morning's WYSO Weekend since 2008 and produced several radio dramas and specials . In 2009 Jerry received the Best Feature award from Public Radio News Directors Inc., and was named the 2023 winner of the Ohio Associated Press Media Editors Best Anchor/News Host award. His current, heart-felt projects include the occasional series Bulletin Board Diaries, which focuses on local, old-school advertisers and small business owners. He has also returned as the co-host Alpha Rhythms.