by Terry Duffy
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced this week that it has decided against establishing an official Department of Defense Restoration Advisory Board for the former Lake Ontario Ordnance Works site at this time.
Buffalo District Commander, Lt. Col. Daniel B. Snead, said the Corps' latest response in the years-long stalemate with the local RAB unit on its quest to become an officially recognized group was again due to Corps' conflicts in having to adhere to "acceptable regulations" under the U.S. Department of Defense.
"Under current DoD rules, an official DoD RAB would only be able to address issues with the former LOOW site under the Defense Environmental Restoration Program for Formerly Used Defense Sites," stated Snead, "and thus would not meet the needs of the community and local stakeholders regarding the Niagara Falls Storage Site and, more specifically, the Interim Waste Containment Structure."
As a result, Snead said the Corps will continue its latest approach, that of holding periodic discussion workshops with the local community on both the LOOW and NFSS sites.
Of his workings with the local RAB, regarded by government officials as a highly talented and respected group, both in educational background and professional expertise, on addressing the very complex LOOW site issues, Snead remarked, "It is very clear that highly interested members of the community and stakeholders seek to contribute their expertise on technical issues in greater detail, especially regarding the IWCS. Because of this, we have reached out to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to gain their lessons learned with technical facilitators at other environmental cleanup sites. I have confidence that a facilitator will be beneficial for all parties involved in the cleanup of these sites.
"We are dedicating our next workshop to discussing the details of community expectations and options available for us to establish facilitated technical discussions as part of our processes for these sites," said Snead.
Dr. Joseph A. Gardella, a University at Buffalo environmental studies professor appointed by the Lewiston-Porter School District to serve on the area's LOOW-RAB, was both encouraged and dismayed on the Corps latest announcement.
"It's a step forward," he said.
Of the Corps' approach of working with the local RAB group via public community workshops, the next one scheduled for September, Gardella sounded both frustrated and impatient. "It's nice that they're going to pursue a facilitator," he remarked, pointing out it was the local RAB's initiative of utilizing a facilitator that even brought the Corps to this point.
"It's great that they accepted, but we don't even know what they mean by a facilitator," Gardella said. "We can work on this; we've dealt with facilitators before. We don't have any details.
"And we don't need to wait until September. I want to get going right now."
Gardella continued his frustration on the Corps' approach with the group. "They've got this mystique that there isn't a RAB. But there is one."
He sounded off on what he called the Corps' queasiness on its willingness to work with the RAB. Pointing out that some of its membership brings more than 30 years of professional expertise in areas relating to NFSS concerns, he criticized the Corps' repeated approach of working with the local RAB via its lawyers. "Sit down with us and work it out," said Gardella.
Of the Corps' latest response, he added, "I believe the Corps is trying to acknowledge the dissatisfaction in the community. This community knows what they want; the Corps needs to listen to that."
"I'll give them credit for listening," Gardella continued. "(But) we were the ones who asked for the EPA to come in.
"It's the Corps' responsibility to sit down with the community. This is a first step. I just wish there was some willingness with the Corps ... that they can just sit down and see how we can work this out.
"Let's just sit down and get going. Why wait until September?"Gardella said he was going to talk with Snead and see how the local RAB could get this moving more proactively. He said the group is going to meet with the Corps later this month on LOOW technical issues and expected this concern to be brought up.