By Kristine Galloway
SHERIDAN – Many of history’s greatest accomplishments succeeded because of the partnerships behind them.
The U.S. wouldn’t exist if not for the coordinated efforts of the Founding Fathers. Modern air travel, and thus, society as we know it, would not be possible if not for the combined work of the Wright brothers.
The greatest successes in environmental protection also stem from strong partnerships.
One of those growing successes is the reclamation of the historic Acme Power Plant north of Sheridan.
The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is helping the Sheridan County Conservation District (SCCD) clean up this hazardous site.
Cindi Martinez, DEQ’s Brownfields Program supervisor, said, “We want to make it safe and usable for people and maybe inspiring to other entities who want to take on a similar project.”
DEQ’s Voluntary Remediation Program works with entities that want to voluntarily clean up sites in Wyoming, including brownfields. Brownfields are properties that are abandoned or unused because of known or suspected environmental contamination.
Carrie Rogaczewski, district manager of the SCCD, said her organization first became aware of the reclamation potential of the site around 2015.
She and her staff began discussions with partner organizations to get a sense of the project. They also worked with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to perform environmental site assessments before the SCCD took ownership of the site in June 2017.
Rogaczewski explained that she met Martinez at a brownfield workshop several years ago.
Martinez and Rogaczewski applied for an assessment grant from the EPA on behalf of the SCCD. They manage the grant and the contracted engineer for the site, and they continue to work on grant applications for the project.
The SCCD also is working with an advisory working group made up of various government agencies, local private landowners and industry groups.
Rogaczewski said that group determined that any work at the site must meet three expectations, which are:
- Protecting water and land quality
- Ensuring public access
- Preserving historical importance
The original EPA grant addressed some of the most pressing needs at the site.
Project Manager Ben Luckey said, “The first piece of the project was removing waste barrels and waste materials that were out there and asbestos waste that was stockpiled.”
He said there were about 55 large drums of waste at the site, some of which were leaking.
Rogaczewski said, “That went a long way to improving the safety of the site, though there’s still a long way to go.”
Luckey explained that asbestos sampling came next, followed by sampling of soil and groundwater to determine what materials or substances might be in those. The plant is situated next to the Tongue River that Luckey said local residents often use for recreation.
Rogaczewski said the DEQ’s support helped the SCCD gather further information the organization needed to keep moving forward on the project. That included a structural survey of the building and a study of possible hydrologic interactions on the site.
The SCCD also collaborated with the University of Wyoming to build a historical profile of the site, including the history of the Town of Acme.
“Some people still remember living or working out there,” Rogaczewski said.
She added that some old foundations are still visible at the old townsite but much of it is gone, though Acme once had a school, a theater, a store and quite a few homes, many of which she said were relocated to Sheridan.
Martinez said, “People are attached to places, and they’re attached to history. This work is for the community. We want a safe place for people to feel that sense of history and to preserve these areas.”
The reclamation of the Acme Power Plant does not include any work on the townsite, which is on separate property.
Currently, the Acme Power Plant site is dangerous because of possible exposure to contaminants or possible accidents, including falls. The SCCD posted signs warning people to stay off the property, but there have been a few injuries at the site involving people who disregarded the signs and entered the property without permission.
In March, the SCCD recognized Martinez and Luckey for the valuable support they provide to the project.
“Cindi and Ben are both really good at keeping us informed, setting up conference calls and letting us know of opportunities,” Rogaczewski said.
“As a local district, so much of what we do depends on the partnerships and the people we work with.”
The SCCD also recognized Loren Ruttinger, the contracted project engineer and Wolf Creek Charitable, an organization that has provided funding for the project.
Rogazcewski said this project is a long-term project and won’t be complete any time soon but will be worth the wait when it’s done.
“You have to do it the right way. You can’t just go out and do it, especially when you’re depending on state and federal funding sources,” she explained.
“It’s going to be cool when it’s all done.”
More information about the project, including the history of Acme, is available at www.acmeprojectwyoming.org.