Facilitating a Superfund Cleanup on Cape Cod

CBI designs and facilitates a structured, integrated decision-making process for the Massachusetts Military Reservation Superfund cleanup site, with a focus on inter-agency negotiation and stakeholder engagement.

Background and Challenges

Throughout the last century, waste dumping and spills from Cape Cod’s Massachusetts Military Reservation (MMR) contaminated billions of gallons of groundwater. Located over an aquifer supplying drinking water for 200,000 year-round and even more seasonal residents, the 21,000-acre military training facility became one of the largest Superfund clean-up sites in the country in 1989.

Prior to MMR’s designation as a Superfund site, surrounding communities worried that they would be responsible for cleaning up the contaminated groundwater water; and, after its Superfund designation, community tensions remained high over how to best deal with contamination. In 1996, a U.S Air Guard plan for full containment of the groundwater contamination was nearing completion when an evaluation determined that the plan would adversely affect the Upper Cape ecosystem. Stakeholders, including the congressional delegation, towns, citizens, and agencies wanted to know how the flawed plan had been developed and why more resources weren’t available to solve the problem. In response, the U.S. Air Force and state and federal environmental agencies contracted CBI to help facilitate a stakeholder engagement process and mediate the negotiation of environmental agreements regarding the cleanup.

The CBI Approach

CBI designs new decision-making and community engagement approaches, establishing an innovative Decision Criteria Matrix to help integrate facilitation and mediation directly into the cleanup process.

Upon entering this highly-charged situation, CBI set about to create a structured, integrated decision-making process with stakeholder engagement positioned as an essential element. CBI helped reorganize the process in order to define decision-making roles and responsibilities, increase public participation, facilitate inter-agency coordination, and ensure that technical reviews took place when necessary. 

This reorganization plan included establishing:

  • Interagency teams at different levels of decision making, from field project managers to headquarters leaders.
  • An interdisciplinary, multi-agency Independent Technical Review and Evaluation Team.
  • A Decision Criteria Matrix process, which included a process of repeatedly refining alternatives and options until broad agreement was reached on cleanup.

The new cleanup program integrated facilitation and mediation directly into its decision-making and community involvement processes. CBI provided on-going assistance, including continued facilitation of the remedial project manager meetings and the citizen team meetings. Using informal agreements called “Consensus Documents,” the project managers established a clear, coordinated set of guidelines for working together on the complex cleanup, which improved upon the standard, national Superfund process. Lastly, CBI helped revise and refine a handbook for agency and citizen team interaction.


CBI helps officials, citizens, agency managers, employees, and contractors successfully revise the MMR Superfund site decision-making process, ensuring that it includes effective stakeholder engagement.

CBI remained extensively involved in the MMR cleanup for over a decade, facilitating and empowering stakeholders to reach satisfactory decisions that carried broad community support. With the assistance of CBI, the $750 million cleanup is in operations and maintenance mode, with more than fifteen remedial decisions in place. The community is satisfied with the ongoing cleanup, a safe regional water supply system has been established, and, in recent years, new renewable energy and efficiency projects have been put in place to ensure a low carbon emissions cleanup. With the help of CBI and the hard work of hundreds of elected officials, citizens, agency managers, employees, and contractors, the MMR site has been transformed from a failed cleanup attempt into a successful example of integrated decision making.

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Paul-W