by Terry Duffy
With newly appointed U.S. Army Corps facilitator Doug Sarno in attendance, members of the Lake Ontario Ordnance Works Restoration Advisory Board voted to officially dissolve and emerge anew.
Monday's session in the Lewiston-Porter High School auditorium marked the latest chapter in a years-long, at-times disruptive relationship between the local "RAB" members and the U.S. Army Corps Buffalo District, and signaled what's hoped by both to be a new working association. It comes off an era of non-communication, disconnect and frustration that existed at times between the two - all centered on the Corps' contention that the local RAB failed to meet U.S. Defense Department criteria as an officially recognized group to work with them on issues involving the complex LOOW site.
"There is no recognition of the Corps for a RAB, but by de facto there is an opportunity," said Joe Gardella, professor and Larkin chair of chemistry at the University at Buffalo, who has been serving as the Lewiston-Porter School District representative to the RAB group.
Following discussion by attending members, Bill Boeck, a retired professor of physics at Niagara University and longtime RAB member presented a motion to disband. Members of the former RAB Steering Committee voted in favor of disbanding and also to create a new group to assist the Corps in overseeing future LOOW site issues. It will be known as the Niagara LOOW Action Council.
It marks a new era for the former RAB members, many of whom possess high levels of educational and professional expertise on issues concerning the LOOW site, and the Corps.
It also opens the door for their reconsideration as an official RAB, with the Corps expected to address the forming of a new RAB for the LOOW site in 2012.
"This is not a RAB," said Sarno. "The Steering Committee has come together to move this forward. This is a community-based organization. I'm here to act as a facilitator between you and the Corps."
"There has been disagreement on what this has been over the years," Gardella admitted. He spoke of the at-times disruptive relationship that existed between the Corps and the RAB. He also said that despite this, RAB has been able to work well with the Corps Buffalo District on various LOOW site concerns over the years.
Gardella, who was elected that night as chair of the new Niagara LOOW Action Council, said he expects the new group to be able to improve on that. "This new approach will have a new community-based structure, to allow for greater input."
He noted the earlier RAB membership consisted of stakeholders from local governments, the Lew-Port School District, other educational institutions, local industry and community members. A group of that structure is expected to continue with the new Niagara LOOW and Gardella invited those interested in joining to contact him at 645-1499 or via email at [email protected].
"This (the new group) is a significant undertaking for the Corps," commented Sarno, who has worked with the Corps in a similar capacity as facilitator at its Fernald, Ohio, 1990s-era Closure Project. "They have a strong commitment to making this work. You have a high potential for success here, of making this work."
Gardella stated he sees good communication with the Corps staff as being vital to make the new association work. Corps reps from the Buffalo District who attended concurred and indicated their willingness to work the new group.
Also elected as officers for the new group were Boeck as vice chair and Nora McQuay, an earlier RAB stakeholder from the Town of Lewiston, who will serve as interim secretary.
In addition to Gardella and Boeck, the new group includes members Mary Schreiner, associate professor of science at Niagara University; Dr. Dennis Dueling, professor emeritus, Canisius College; Wendy Swearingen and Keith Fox, both members of the Lewiston-Porter Board of Education; and Ann Roberts, a chemist, formerly of Youngstown and involved in RAB committees over the years, who now lives in the Midwest. Roberts participated at the session via an Internet hookup.
"We have a commitment to continue monthly meetings," said Gardella, who announced the new group would meet Tuesday, Aug. 23, at 6:30 p.m. in the Alumni Room of the Lew-Port Community Resource Center on Creek Road.
The session is open to interested residents.
Expected to be discussed that night, in addition to organizing and structure of the new group, will be the future of the Interim Waste Containment Structure at the Niagara Falls Storage Site at LOOW, an issue the Corps will be pursuing with presentations and expanded community participation over the next several months as it prepares a feasibility study anticipated in summer 2013.