By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
By 1994 there will be a new building at 8600 East Thomas in Scottsdale.
Concealed behind the building's adobelike fa‡ade will be a multimillion-dollar plant designed to strip health-threatening chemicals, principally the suspected carcinogen trichloroethylene, or TCE, from drinking water pumped out of the north Indian Bend Wash Superfund site.
The pollution was discovered in 1981 in the Scottsdale area. The very first time that drinking water was tested for TCE, the contamination forced the closure of five suburban drinking-water wells.
In the last four years of their production, the wells pumped approximately 12 billion gallons of water to Valley homes. State officials are unable to say how many of those 12 billion gallons were contaminated.
The north Indian Bend Wash aquifer itself had been classified in state records as a potable source of drinking water for 350,000 people.
Of the four suspected polluters of this critical natural resource, the largest is the Motorola Government Electronics Group, a defense contractor for the United States government.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has touted the north Indian Bend Wash Superfund site as "An Arizona Success Story." In a newsletter recently released by the headquarters of the EPA's Region Nine, which includes Arizona, the federal agency emphasizes that polluters, not taxpayers, will pay for the north Indian Bend Wash cleanup: "This Superfund remedy will protect the groundwater resources of the State and provide drinking water for a major population center at little cost to the public."
Under the headline "Making Polluters Pay for Cleanup," the EPA newsletter says polluters "must either clean the sites themselves or pay the cost for EPA to do the job." The newsletter is referring to a key point in the 1980 Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, the so-called Superfund law, that forces the polluter--not the taxpayer--to pay for cleanup expenses.
Officials at the EPA have figured that the total capital cost for cleaning up Scottsdale's drinking water will be about $20.9 million. Operation of the water-treatment plant itself is estimated to cost polluters another $500,000 per year.
Citizens have been left with the mistaken impression that much of this expense is being shouldered by Motorola.
The electronics giant, which is Arizona's largest employer, has long said its participation in cleaning up this Superfund site is a testament to the fact that it is a "responsible corporate citizen." Motorola's spokesman, Lawrence Moore, has repeatedly said the company has spent nearly $30 million to remove TCE from the groundwater beneath Scottsdale and a second, even larger, spill in Phoenix.
Scottsdale city water officials Jim Nelson and Roger Klingler say citizens will pay relatively little--only about $150,000--for the cleanup of groundwater that will once again be used for drinking. The entire southern portion of Scottsdale will get a safe water supply, they say, paid for by polluters.
Which isn't true.
Taxpayers across the nation are shouldering much of Motorola's share of the environmental costs.
Motorola has back-billed the U.S. Department of Defense for undisclosed costs of the pollution cleanup in Scottsdale, New Times has learned.
When American taxpayers purchase defense systems for the armed services, Motorola adds into its bills a fee to cover expenses for the TCE spill in the north Indian Bend Wash.
"Investigation and cleanup costs at north Indian Bend Wash are considered allowable overhead and portions were billed to the government in accordance with their guidelines," acknowledges Moore.
The "exact amounts" the Department of Defense has paid and will pay are "confidential and proprietary financial matters," says Moore.
He says Motorola's Government Electronics Group did nothing illegal by back-billing the Department of Defense for such expenses.
Department of Defense spokesperson Jan Walker refuses to comment specifically on Motorola. The reimbursement figures are "proprietary data" and not available to the public, she says. The Department of Defense acknowledges, however, that United States taxpayers often pay Superfund expenses for contractors such as Motorola. The rationale: Superfund expenses are a defense contractor's "cost of doing business" if the pollution was caused without malice and can be linked to a specific product manufactured for the Department of Defense, says Walker. The Department of Defense will not say how much it has spent on Superfund sites across the country. "We do not collect data separating these expenses out," says Walker. The Defense Contract Audit Agency, a federal agency which audits defense contracts, refused New Times' Freedom of Information Act request for the precise figures detailing how much American taxpayers must pay for the Indian Bend Wash cleanup.
After being informed by New Times of the back-billing practice, Senator Dennis DeConcini's office has intervened.
The senator's aides will meet with the General Accounting Office to discuss the possibility of investigating Motorola to determine how much taxpayer money has been spent to clean up the Superfund sites. "The senator is concerned that taxpayers' money is being used to clean up these Superfund sites," says David Steele, a DeConcini environmental aide. "If this is really the case, there's no incentive for defense contractors to keep from polluting again." The Department of Defense says it sees nothing wrong with paying the Superfund bills for some contractors, even if they are "high," says Glenn Flood, another department spokesman. "You can't disallow something because it might be a high price if it is a reasonable expense," says Flood. The Department of Defense's response to possible anger by unsuspecting taxpayers over the fact that public funds pay environmental costs of private industries is straightforward. "The American public is behind the weapons program," says Flood.