Fernald Preserve Wins EPA Award for Beneficial Reuse

In early November, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Legacy Management (LM) Fernald Preserve, Ohio, Site was honored to accept the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) National Federal Facility Excellence in Site Reuse Award in the National Priorities List (NPL) category. The award recognizes accomplishments at the Fernald Preserve in environmental education, environmental remediation, and conservation of natural resources.

An audience of 75 people from the EPA, Ohio EPA, and DOE, as well as local government officials, DOE contractors, former site workers, and community members gathered at the Fernald Preserve Visitors Center to recognize the leadership and innovation that led to the Fernald Preserve becoming a regional environmental and conservation asset.

LM Deputy Director Peter O’Konski delivers remarks at the Fernald Preserve award ceremony.

LM Deputy Director Peter O’Konski delivers remarks at the Fernald Preserve award ceremony.

“The U.S. Department of Energy is honored to receive this award from the EPA,” said Peter O’Konski, LM deputy director. “The Fernald site has come full circle with restoration, creating one of the largest man-made wetlands in Ohio. The Fernald Preserve spans across 385 acres of native grasslands, seven miles of accessible trails, and is now home to more than 250 bird species, bobcats, beavers and more.”

“Cleaning up contaminated sites at federal facilities can serve as a catalyst for economic growth and community revitalization,” said Gregory Gervais, acting director of EPA Federal Facilities Restoration and Reuse Office. “The transformation of Fernald Preserve from a Cold War legacy site to a beautiful nature preserve and interpretive visitor center is a credit to the collaborative and hard work by the Department of Energy, Ohio EPA, EPA Region 5, Fernald Residents for Environmental Safety and Health (FRESH), and the Fernald Community Alliance. Fernald Preserve is a model for future cleanup and reuse projects around the country.”

From 1951 to 1989, the Fernald site was home to the large, industrial Fernald Feed Materials Production Center, which produced uranium metals for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and DOE, as part of the U.S. Cold War nuclear weapons complex. Following closure, extensive environmental remediation, under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), took place from 1996 to 2006. Building demolition, removal of contaminated soils, construction of the On-Site Disposal Facility, and implementation of an intricate aquifer-restoration remedy were completed by 2006, when the site transferred from the DOE Office of Environmental Management to LM for long-term surveillance, monitoring, and maintenance.

The successful collaboration of stakeholder groups at Fernald resulted in the mutually agreed upon remediation end goal of “an undeveloped park with an emphasis on wildlife to serve as a community asset.” This effort is widely viewed as a success and a myriad of Fernald site stakeholders, including regulators, contractors, and the community at large, were a major part of the success story.

“What a well-deserved honor,” said Lisa Crawford, former Fernald Citizens Advisory board member and long-time FRESH president. “The Fernald Preserve has come a very long way and became a wonderful community asset to the Fernald community. Many years later, the commitment from Ohio EPA, EPA, and our government officials working together has made this happen.  We, as a community, value the rebirth of this site.”

Since the opening of the Visitors Center in 2008, interpretive services personnel have served over 128,000 members of the community, through the Fernald Experience exhibit hall, community meeting spaces, and other programs related to the historical and natural resources protected at the Fernald Preserve.

Beneficial reuse is at the heart of Fernald Preserve, which includes hundreds of acres of restored prairies, wetlands, forest, hiking trails, and wildlife watching opportunities, as well as an interpretive center that is platinum certified by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, signifying the highest possible industry standard for cost and energy efficiency.

Recent accolades for the site include a 2017 regional conservation commendation by the Garden Club of America, a national leader in the fields of horticulture, conservation, and civic improvement. In 2018, the Fernald Preserve was named a regional “Greenspace Gem” by Green Umbrella, a Cincinnati-based regional environmental sustainability alliance. In that same year, Fernald Preserve staff also accepted the Butler County Soil and Water Conservation District’s “Conservation Educator of the Year” Award.

LM sites serve as national models of excellence in environmental remediation, environmental education, and conservation of natural resources. The Fernald Preserve and the stakeholders in support of it are landmark examples of the incredible change that can happen with community collaboration and dedication.