The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation this week issued a revised version of its Hazardous Waste Siting Plan, which, once finalized and signed into law, will likely set the framework for future operations of facilities in the state such as Waste Management's CWM Chemical Services in Porter.
Decades in the works, the latest siting plan issued Oct. 5 on the whole improves on the most recent document released in 2008, say local environmental advocates. It maintains DEC's support of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidelines with respect to national capacity and need. "The principal finding of the plan is that, based on present national capacity, there is no need for additional hazardous waste management facilities or expanded hazardous waste capacity in New York," the plan states.
But where the latest document differs from the 2008 version is in its particulars with respect to the actual impact on a community. While it still does not fully address "equitable distribution" with regards to necessity on the types of hazardous waste facilities and their future placement, it does take into consideration the issue of public interest.
"It balances the playing field significantly," commented Dr. R. Nils Olsen Jr., a Youngstown attorney and staunch opponent of hazardous waste landfilling in Niagara County who has battled this issue with the state on behalf of local interests since 1987. Olsen currently represents the environmental interests of the Porter citizens group Residents for Responsible Government. "This makes it clear the community has a say."
What Olsen is referring to is language contained in the following DEC guidance found in Chapter 9 of the 153-page siting plan PDF:
"Among other things the Siting Board should evaluate the location of a proposed facility, including past and present activities at the property and in the surrounding area, the facility's size and impact on the surrounding area including transportation issues, the facility's compliance history, and environmental justice considerations."
Olsen pointed out, for example, the relevance of economic cost and its impact is now one criteria the siting plan will need to factor in when determining future location. "It lays down guidelines for the siting plan to consider a facility with respect to the loss, the value, the health of the community."
He pointed out DEC will now need to weigh such issues as the "potential reduction in property values, new housing construction, attracting new clean sustainable business, tourism and tax dollars."
"It's far, far better than the revised draft. It's a vast improvement," Olsen said, adding it shows that DEC listened and acted on community concerns presented from the 2008 document.
Amy Witryol, a member of the Town of Lewiston Community Advisory Committee on CWM issues and a candidate for State Senate in the 62nd District, likewise called the latest siting plan document a big improvement. "It's better than the last draft," she said, pointing out it now recognizes such concerns as closed landfills, equitable distribution and community interest.
"For the first time in history, this DEC siting plan instructs a Siting Board it may consider waste in closed landfills when determining whether facilities are ‘equitably distributed' across the state," said Witryol. "Because Niagara County has 10 million tons of chemical waste in commercial landfills while the rest of the state has zero, this option further inhibits already weak prospects for CWM expansion. CWM's application is now eight years behind schedule," she added.
State Sen. George Maziarz did not return a request to comment as the Sentinel went to press yesterday.
State Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte stated she had "mixed emotions" on the latest document.
"While I am pleased the DEC's principal finding reinforces my position and that of many local residents that there is no need for additional hazardous waste management facilities or expanded hazardous waste capacity in Niagara County or New York state, I am disappointed that the plan fails to give any potential Siting Board meaningful guidance on the question of equitable distribution," she said.
Niagara County Legislator John Ceretto (12th District), who is among those vying for DelMonte's Assembly seat in the Nov. 2 election, also had concerns on equitable distribution, calling DEC's advisories on future placement vague. "I don't think it's balanced. Niagara County still has the brunt of hazardous waste landfills. The state says we're equal. We're not."
CWM, meanwhile, said it was still in "the initial review" of the siting plan document.
"As the only hazardous waste treatment and disposal facility in New York state, the Waste Management operation in the Town of Porter remains a vital component to the safe disposal of remediation and brownfield wastes. We are also the dependable and cost-effective solution to many New York state businesses that are generators of hazardous waste as a result of the manufacturing of products that we use every day," said Lori Caso, WM spokesperson.
"Having a reliable, in-state facility in New York state will be essential for future clean up projects in the state. Brownfield sites are a key component to New York state's economic viability, to utilize out-of-state facilities for disposal purposes will add to substantial transportation costs and could jeopardize projects."
Caso closed by noting that CWM employs 80 full-time staff and positively impacts the Niagara County economy by $12 million annually.
The DEC is expected to adopt the new Siting Plan guidelines in coming days.