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Corps' workshop delves further into the IWCS

by jmaloni
Sat, Apr 7th 2012 07:00 am

Cell's construction, radon concerns, project timetable all discussed

by Terry Duffy

News of interest on the Lake Ontario Ordnance Works site in northern Lewiston continues.

On March 28, U.S. government site overseer, the Army Corps of Engineers, held another in its series of workshop sessions on the LOOW Interim Waste Containment Structure on Pletcher Road in northern Lewiston.

A 10-acre, temporary cell constructed by the government in the 1980s, IWCS remains the focus of a lengthy feasibility study process by the Corps to determine its future. Extensive remediation and cleanup of the site, a billion-dollar-plus endeavor, is now among a host of options under consideration by the U.S. government.

Over a nearly three-hour period, three Corps technical memorandums covering radon exposure, risk assessments and meteorological evaluations were discussed at the session. All had their focus on the high-levels of K-65 and R-10 radioactive wastes and other contaminants stored within the IWCS.

And questions and suspicions concerning contamination of the site and risk to the community were again heard by many of the crowd of roughly 50 who attended the session.

At this time no decisions concerning the future of IWCS have been made whatsoever, stressed John H. Busse, site program manager for the Corps at LOOW, to audience members. Busse was joined by technical facilitator Douglas Sarno, various Corps Buffalo District representatives and LOOW site contractors, plus EPA and state DEC officials at the session. All offered insight on the IWCS situation and attempted to dispel wide-ranging community suspicions and concerns.

Of the latter, presenters found only questionable levels of success.

Briefly recapping the involved session:

•Visitors learned that the IWCS is considered a separate project with respect to the Corps' remedial action process at Niagara Falls Storage Site, and heard explanations on why the Corps' studies have thus far been limited only to the cell and not to other problems on the site.

•Corps' presenters detailed the decades-long history of the NFSS, moving to recent time and narrowing their focus to the IWCS lands. They discussed how past buildings within the cell's vicinity were incorporated into the unit in the early to mid-1980s; how sections were created for placement of consolidated wastes from throughout the NFSS site; and the actual processes of depositing high-level K-65 wastes, lower level R-10 residues, contaminated soils and other radioactive debris into the cell. Also discussed were extensive details on the construction of the cell itself, including construction of bordering dikes and retainer walls on its sides and the volume and extent of soils used on top to thwart any releases.

•Corps members, contracted site officials and government SAIC scientists and engineers then discussed radiation concerns, including health impacts from radium, radiation decay, the ionizing of radiation releases, the managing of radon gas and gamma rays releases and how the IWCS design inhibits release of both. Also discussed was placement of the IWCS monitoring wells, how they function, and the problems encountered with testing in the more than two decades the IWCS has functioned.

•Corps presenters closed their discussions on various "what ifs?" should the IWCS be opened, the radon gases exposed, the hypothetical receptors in the community and potential impacts.

•Afterward, the session broke of into Q-and-As at three separate roundtable discussions where remaining visitors to the session at times peppered Corps presenters with various issues of concerns. Some were readily answered, some not.

One was a question on the stability of the IWCS cell by chemist Ann Roberts, a member of the area's LOOW Restoration Advisory Board. (See Roberts comments to a Corps letter, on Page 4 of the March 31 Sentinel).

At the March 28 session, she questioned Corps' determinations with respect to stability of the IWCS, namely leakages. "It's a disagreement over data on the site," said Busse in response to a number of stability issues raised that evening by Roberts.

One question that was clarified, however, involved the Corps position on ultimately addressing the site. When asked by Roberts if the Corps feasibility study could be seen as moving towards a final decision on the IWCS' future, all Corps reps stressed it was not.

"We're years away from a decision," said Bill Kowaleski, former LOOW site manager. "The feasibility study presents the case, a proposed plan on what the government could do." Kowaleski said the Corps feasibility study, expected to be complete in 2013, would follow with a proposed plan in 2014, an extended formal public comment period that year and then lead to a record of decision in 2015.

Sarno commented that IWCS memorandums, studies and evaluations are still to come and the feasibility study phase was far from concluded. Of the still to come proposed plan, he added, "That's where the public comments occur. We not even at that point."

Once a record of decision is made, anything that would come next with regards to cleanup would ultimately be up to the federal government, all Corps reps said. Factors such as two approved Corps projects in the Buffalo District already being on the calendar ahead of this one, limited funding availability under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act under which IWCS remediation falls, plus the potential cost of IWCS cleanup being well in excess of $1 billion and well beyond the capability of the entire Department of Defense annual budget for the country were all cited by the Corps as being barriers to any action on the IWCS site taken in the foreseeable future.

"You'll likely be looking at Congressional funding for this one," commented Kowaleski.

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