CAMPAIGNS: Community Relations - PR buildup helps Tourtelotcleanup

The cleanup of former military sites across the country is considered a national priority, but the actual execution of the overhaul is left up to the individual communities.

Tourtelot, in Benicia, CA, is one site where abandoned ordnance (military parlance for munitions) was discovered in 1996 as the property was being developed. Soon thereafter, it became clear that residents would have to withdraw from the area for part of the cleanup process. Getting the community to understand and agree to the plans, however, was the challenge of the PR team.

Strategy

There was very little to draw from in terms of the experiences of other communities. "If you look at the environmental remediation projects going on, you have very few role models,

explains Jason Keadjian, VP with Singer Associates. "You have very few success stories to point to, where you have people coming together by consensus and agreeing on a remedial solution in a reasonable period of time."

The primary strategy was to involve the community in as much of the process as possible, including the design of the project. In order to do that, a massive education effort was needed to help the residents understand the issues involved in environmental cleanup.

Finally, when it came down to the actual withdrawal, the team wanted to make the whole experience as pleasant as possible, providing resources for people who had to leave their homes or businesses.

Tactics

At the very beginning of the planning for the education effort, the team set up a Community Advisory Group (CAG). One of the priorities was to identify exactly how much disruption would be caused to the 200 or so affected area residents. To that end, it was determined that the most convenient time for withdrawal was between the hours of 9am and 2pm.

Newsletters were sent out 60 days prior to withdrawal, which were designed to solicit input from the community. The team was particularly keen to find out if there were any special needs that had to be accommodated, such as ill or disabled individuals who would require extra assistance.

Another mailing was sent out 30 days prior to the withdrawal, then one 10 days prior; and finally one 72 hours before. The PR team went through the neighborhood to hang reminder notices on front doorknobs.

Two weeks prior to the event, an open house was held, where residents were encouraged to attend and ask questions. Company employees and PR people also attended other coffee mornings and similar activities to offer further information. A website, www.Tourtelotcleanup. com, was created and constantly updated.

The withdrawals took place over two days. During that time, a business center was made available to local working people, with the full complement of office equipment. A hospitality center was also set up at a local hotel, where people could drop in and have breakfast and lunch. The mayor of Benicia dropped by the center to thank residents for their cooperation.

Road closures were also part of the withdrawal, and personnel were stationed at each road closing to explain the situation and offer advice on alternate routes.

Residents were also given $100 worth of "Benicia dollars

- gift certificates to various shops and restaurants in the town.

Results

Don Knapp, a reporter from Bay Area TV station KRON-TV, called the withdrawal "a model of cooperation

in his report, which was the lead news story at 5pm on the first evening. But media coverage was not considered the most significant result. The withdrawal was successful, and no residents complained.

"It actually exceeded our expectations in that it wasn't just people tolerating it, but people feeling good about it - feeling like they had participated in the cleanup of a liability in their community,

says Scott Goldie, SVP and division manager for Pacific Bay Homes, a sister company to Granite Management.

He should know: He's a company representative who actually lives in the area, and withdrew from his own home, as his neighbors did.

Future

Today, more than one-third of the site is cleared, but the evaluation of the area still goes on. It's possible that another withdrawal may be required, and the PR team plans to continue the process of inclusion and education until the site is completely clear.

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