EnviroReporter.com – September 15, 2009
Recently replaced Department of Toxic Substances Control project manager for the multi-million dollar cleanups of the Boeing’s Santa Susana Field Laboratory and KB Home’s Runkle Canyon property, Norman E. Riley, sent a scathing letter to EnviroReporter.com Sunday afternoon disparaging his former employer and claiming that he has more incriminating revelations yet to come.
Riley’s wrath was in response to an e-mail of mine surreptitiously sent to him by Rocketdyne activist Christina Walsh, who helps run the Aerospace Cancer Museum of Education in Chatsworth-Lake Manor. Riley removed her response to the e-mail (which she declared “off the record”) and forwarded my original message with his comments to nine other individuals including Walsh and her museum partner, Bill Bowling, three KB Home officials, and Simi Valley City Manager Mike Sedell.
Riley also copied Preston Brooks, a partner with the law firm of Cox, Castle & Nicholson in Los Angeles, one of the largest real estate developer law firms in the country. The company’s website states that “Mr. Brooks counsels property owners, developers, lenders, municipalities, and pension funds on environmental risk management strategies in the context of real estate acquisition, financing and development.” The online bio also states, “In addition, Mr. Brooks represents clients engaged in the redevelopment of brownfields. He has represented purchasers of contaminated properties in negotiations with governmental agencies to minimize environmental liabilities, using procedures available under the California Land Reuse and Revitalization Act, the Polanco Act, and the Brownfields Revitalization and Environmental Restoration Act. Mr. Brooks also frequently assists clients to obtain and tailor environmental insurance policies to address environmental issues associated with real property.”
Riley’s motivation for copying a real-estate environmental attorney is unclear and it is not currently known whether Brooks represents Riley, KB Home, both entities or neither of them.
Riley also copied the missive to the Secretary of Cal-EPA, Linda Adams, and the acting director of DTSC, Maziar Movassaghi, who announced Riley’s departure as we reported in “Coup de Goo” August 19.
Riley began his unsolicited message with the audacity to refer to my private e-mail to Ms. Walsh as “misleading and self-serving.” He went on to explain his statements in a recent Miller-McCune article with a bizarre analogy about the difference between “having ass” and being an “ass.”
Riley then reveals that his authority in Runkle Canyon and at SSFL was terminated over five months ago:
[W]ith regard to the decision making at SSFL and the surrounding sites, Mr. Movassaghi withdrew my decision making authority in a memo dated April 8, 2009 and reserved all such decision-making authority for himself. When asked by members of the public about the status of the Runkle Canyon decision afterward, I consistently said that no decision had been made. That much was true: it was not a lie.
It’s not difficult to understand how one could be confused about Riley’s authority. In a July 13 interview with Joan Trossman Bien that we reported in “Not the Norm,” Bien asked the then official SSFL and Runkle Canyon cleanup chief who made the final cleanup decision. “DTSC,” Riley answered. “That is my department.”
According to Riley, it was getting more difficult for him not to tell the truth:
I will readily admit that it was becoming harder and harder for me to give the same response time after time without revealing the true nature of the delay. When I said that we are reviewing all of the comments and being thorough in our consideration of those comments, that was true too, but the fact of the matter is that we had completed that work long ago.
Riley, who had been with DTSC for 25 years until retiring September 3 (after being removed from his post), according to Ms. Walsh, then delivered this stunning tirade:
Unfortunately, that is the nature of being a subordinate who serves at the pleasure of appointing powers in an organization where obfuscation, abdication of authority, collusion, and other contemptible behaviors currently trump honesty and integrity which the public rightly expects and deserves.
EnviroReporter.com notes that it is ironic for a man who espouses such moral standards to take a private e-mail that he knows was not meant for him, edit it, and respond to it in a hostile manner while copying government officials, a controversial developer and an unidentified real estate attorney.
But Riley’s seeming contempt for this reporter and the public concerns about Runkle Canyon do not end there:
Let me now explain to you why no decision has been made regarding Runkle Canyon. First you should know that DTSC completed its responses to public comments (along with additional white material and surface water sampling several months ago: the results were negative).
Actually, DTSC, under Riley’s leadership before he was sacked, had instructed KB Home to come up with a Draft Response Plan for assessing and cleaning up Runkle Canyon. That is the plan the public commented on as we reported in our seven-part series “Railroading Runkle Canyon?”
Riley never responded to public comments, which total in excess of 100 pages amongst at least five different parties. Yet even if he had, it wouldn’t have made a difference as he makes abundantly clear:
After the April 8 memo, I stated in weekly reports submitted to Mr. Movassaghi every Friday that a decision was needed on Runkle Canyon and recommended that DTSC should APPROVE the response plan, thus allowing Runkle Canyon LLC to proceed with removal of the tar material and the collection of additional samples.
Instead of addressing the scientifically and legally astute comments, Riley simply ignored them and would have violated DTSC procedure, as governed by State law, if he had approved the Response Plan without formally responding to comments. But he was apparently canned before he could do so, much to the relief of area residents like the Radiation Rangers’ Reverend John Southwick who expressed satisfaction at Riley’s removal as reported in “Coup de Goo.”
Riley went on to blame delays in Runkle Canyon on who he called my “mentor,” presumably meaning Dan Hirsch, president of the nuclear watchdog group Committee to Bridge the Gap:
The reason the plan was not approved is simply because one person who you and a diminishing number of others imitate in comments, disapproved of the involvement of Dade Moeller, one of the most highly respected firms in the business. DTSC found no reason to disqualify Dade Moeller whose only involvement in this project was to review and interpret the data, not to collect or manage the samples, but I was nevertheless, to my considerable worry and dismay instructed to contact the developer and suggest that they hire a different consultant due to “political” realities. Runkle Canyon LLC rightly refused this extortion. According to Mr. Movassaghi who was informed of that response, it was then later suggested by your mentor that the data collection called for in the response plan could proceed if Mr. Dempsey were available to witness the sampling activities. Oblvious [sic] to this insult against DTSC’s highly qualified field personnel, Mr. Movassaghi subsequently contacted USEPA about that possibility. I do not know what answer he was given (I was by that time excluded from nearly all meetings and communications concerning the SSFL and neighboring properties), but I suspect it was no different than the one I was given when I asked USEPA for technical assistance on radiological issues at the SSFL and surrounding site many months prior.
Riley’s suggestion that Hirsch is my “mentor” is absurd, as is the notion that anyone imitates him. Hirsch is singularly inimitable, and while he and I have not always seen eye to eye, the fact is that there would be no clean-up agreement without his 30 years of dedicated and conscientious work (let alone any museums.)
Hirsch was quick to take issue with Dade Moeller, the controversial laboratory that has repeatedly drawn the ire of environmentalists and local activists alike, as we have reported on for years as a search for Dade Moeller on EnviroReporter.com shows.
Even Walsh has repeatedly objected to KB Home’s use of Dade Moeller, as shown by her comments as reported in Cleanup Rocketdyne Runkle Canyon Comments:
While we appreciate the need to potentially use data already generated to date, we feel it crucial to point out that independent review of that data should include a detailed explanation for the contradiction between the summary of the data, and the data itself (i.e. strontium-90 exceedences)[sic]. This goes further than to merely underestimate the results, they in fact, describe exceedences [sic] to the strontium-90 results as being within range that they define. Six of the seventeen original samples submitted exceeded the MDA in concentrations that ranged from 4.756 pCi/g in SS-6 to 0.686 pCi/g in SS-16.
The Dade-Moeller report summarizes these same results to mean that no exceedances occurred. There have been many concerns about the independence and quality of the analysis of this contractor. This “inaccuracy” constitutes a material misrepresentation of fact, through omission and unsupported conclusions, which make trusting the conclusions of these reports, impossible. These questions remain unaddressed and we feel they are primary to the task of determining the trustworthiness and accuracy of the data collected and analyzed to date so that a truly informed and protective decision can be made on the Runkle Canyon project.
Walsh has been a frequent commenter on EnviroReporter.com and was even featured during our “Railroading Runkle Canyon?” series that ended last week. However her last comment to us on September 5, which sparked the e-mail exchange that set Riley off, is the first comment we’ve rejected because of its content:
too [sic] bad you wrote your article in reverse, Joan, misrepresenting what was said and the issues. Word-twisting instead of word-smithing [sic]. Removed from position for cause? That is not true according to Maziar Movassaghi, Acting Director who took on all decision-making power including the decisions at Runkle Canyon as of March of this year. Now that Joan’s inaccurate article appears to have been pulled from the online magazine, perhaps it is coming out that you can’t mis-represent the truth to this degree without a little trouble from the editor.
Though inaccurate, Walsh’s message was not a complete surprise as she has been pursuing a campaign to reinstate Riley ever since he was sacked as we reported in “Double Vision” August 25. In that coverage, we posted a July 13, 2009 interview with Riley conducted by Joan Trossman Bien, who was this reporter’s co-writer on a recent Miller-McCune Online Magazine feature about the 50th anniversary of the meltdown of the Sodium Reactor Experiment in 1959 at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) high in the hills between the Simi and San Fernando valleys in Southern California.
After waiting a week to allow Walsh to cool down, I wrote her to explain why we had not posted her comment.
Seeing your latest RIS post about bringing back Norm, I wanted to be clear with you why I didn’t ‘okay’ the post below – it was to save you from embarrassment over not getting the facts straight. I wouldn’t disapprove a comment simply because I disagreed with it. I disagree with your comments but you’re certainly entitled to your opinions as [are] Joan and I.
Note that the article was Joan’s and mine, not hers alone; she/we/Miller-McCune did not misrepresent Norm, or anyone for that matter, in the piece and it was never pulled from Miller-McCune as you can see here: http://www.miller-mccune.com/science_environment/50-years-after-nuclear-meltdown-1438 (which has been linked on our website’s index page all the while, if you bothered to look which, apparently, you never did).
Indeed, the article was so popular that when it came out, it temporarily crashed the online magazine’s server, which is one heck of a feat. The editor was, and is, thrilled with the article and is looking forward to more of my work (and Joan’s as well). Please note that even weeks after coming out, it is still getting loads of hits.
I do not want to get into a spat over this because it is pointless – I did you a favor though this impulsive comment pissed me off mightily – I won’t allow our website to be a conduit to slandering me/Bien/anyone with false notions. It does no one any good, especially you in this case.
PS: I also want to point out that IF Maziar “took on all decision-making power including the decisions at Runkle Canyon as of March of this year,” that is certainly news to us because Norm never said a word about it to Joan, me, us or the community. IF that was the case, Norm lied to Joan in the interview and I highly doubt he would do that.
Walsh declared her response “off the record,” apparently not realizing that “off the record” is an agreement between two parties. I didn’t agree, and even if I had, she would have nullified the understanding by simultaneously sending my private message to her, to Riley, who then sent it on to others. Not only did Walsh apparently believe that declaring her e-mail “off the record” made it so, she also believed that declaring my e-mail “public record” made it so. Not so. She made it clear, however, that getting facts straight wasn’t necessarily at the top of her priorities.
When I clicked on the [Miller-McCune] article it went to a general page without any article on it. Again, only going by what happened when I clicked. I don’t have the time or the interest to check it daily. However, the reason for my comment is because of the slant that you are presenting these issues with. You don’t know everything and I frankly don’t care what anyone said to Joan as I don’t know who Joan is and the interview was long before these events happened. I have spoken to Maziar and asked him when he took over the decision-making power at the site and he said when he became Acting Director in March. Norm’s job was to take the hits, but he was not getting approval to move forward from above. His job was not to forward that responsibility or blame upwards, because no one above him would speak to anyone in the public. Maziar doesn’t know how NOT to lie, so he should avoid the public whenever possible.
In what could only be described as a shocking admission from an activist who has pushed for full SB 990 adherence to cleaning up Rocketdyne, Walsh says that “of course SB990 has been a hindrance!” and then went on to threaten this reporter that I should worry about Riley’s lawyers:
In addition, this isn’t about a decision about a report, this is about destroying a person, a career. In addition, this is a person who has really stepped up for our community had gotten more done in 2 years than Mr. Hirsch has done in 30 (probably why he’s so pissed) This was a stellar career for 25 years, and now, based on lies, it is over. I would worry about his lawyers because I seriously doubt he will remain silent and just let this happen to him, especially after seeing his direct response to Maziar’s lie to Mary [Wiesbrock] http://cleanuprocketdyne.org/documents/DTSC/The%20Real%202_0.pdf. Now that he is retired, he is not gagged and he’s comin’ out with the truth!
And that truth ought to be mighty interesting, as Riley suggests:
There is a good deal more to know about what has really happened at this site: I assure you the best is yet to come. You, Mr. Collins, will be reading those accounts in the papers and blogs of reporters I trust and respect.
But you, dear readers, have now learned about Riley’s core allegations here. First.
We’re not sure if Riley was aware he was telegraphing his punches by sending us this e-mail, if he was trying to shop his expose through us, or if he simply lost his temper. Whatever happens will hopefully end up being a sideshow to the main attraction, which is cleaning up the Santa Susana Field Laboratory and protecting the health of nearby communities.
“I hope we can get past all this nonsense and make sure that DTSC really looks at our Runkle Canyon Response Plan comments like Mr. Movassaghi has promised,” says Rev. Southwick. “DTSC now has the chance to turn the page on what has been two years of phony oversight in Runkle Canyon that kowtowed to the developer and ignored the community. We wish everyone, officials and activists alike, would put their private interests and egos aside so we can get that place, and Rocketdyne, cleaned up like they should be.”