What comes to mind when you hear the word Superfund? Nasty, abandoned toxic waste dumps? An underfunded federal cleanup program? Real estate that can't be given away?
For fliers of model airplanes, the image is one of wide open spaces, perfect for sending up a scaled replica of the Curtis P-40 or the P-47 Thunderbolt. So the Academy of Model Aeronautics signed an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency in February to use cleaned-up Superfund sites for flying planes.
"You can appreciate that having a place to fly is the heartbeat of model aviation. The academy is on cloud nine that we have this potential," said Joseph Beshar, flying sites coordinator for the Muncie, Ind.-based group, which has 170,000 members.
Beshar, who is 81 and owns a dozen models, said he was looking for old, covered landfills for the academy's clubs to use when he heard about the EPA's Superfund Redevelopment Program.
The agreement stipulates that EPA will identify potential sites that fit the group's needs and help make the arrangements for use. In return for free use of the land, the model plane clubs will mow the grass, mend fences, and generally maintain the sites.
The agency began the redevelopment program in 1999 and now has about 300 sites that are cleaned up and ready to be reused or in reuse. For example, it has an agreement with the U.S. Soccer Foundation to use sites for playing fields.
EPA has photos of resurrected Superfund sites on its Web site that rival anything a professional real estate agent could have designed to tempt potential buyers. There are baseball fields like the one in Boonton, N.J., which sprang from an abandoned toxic waste site. There are commercial developments, too, such as the Home Depot in Denver that sits atop a site where there was 97,000 tons of contaminated soil.
Even the most high-profile of Superfund sites -- Love Canal in Niagara Falls, N.Y. -- has been returned to use. After 20 years of acrimony and the cleanup of 20,000 tons of toxic chemicals, more than 200 homes in the neighborhood have been renovated and sold.
To ease the stigma and reduce the risk of starting a venture on a Superfund site, EPA issues a "ready for re-use" determination for each site, spelling out what happened and what it contains. This helps attract financing and potential buyers for the sites.
But where aviation enthusiasts, real estate developers and some communities see economic returns from reuse or restoration of Superfund sites, environmental organizations like the U.S. Public Interest Research Group see the threat of continuing contamination.