by Terry Duffy
Monday evening, staffers from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation hosted two public hearings in the Lewiston-Porter High School auditorium. Their purpose was to gauge public comments on a draft permit renewal application on file with DEC by CWM Chemical Services LLC.
The Porter-based hazardous waste landfiller has been seeking a procedural renewal from DEC for a Part 373 Hazardous Waste Permit, on file with DEC since the 1990s, for it to enable continued operations of a Residual Management Unit 1 landfill at its Balmer Road facility. While the process was viewed by DEC as routine that evening, with DEC Regional Permit Administrator David Denk telling the 50 or so gathered for the 5 p.m. session at Lew-Port that the agency has made a "tentative decision to approve the permit renewal," sentiments echoed by many in the crowd at that session were decidedly not favorable, not for the current permit and definitely not for DEC's possible granting of an expansion permit on file by CWM for a new RMU-2 landfill, ensuring future existence of the hazardous waste company in Niagara.
The focus of the hearing dealt with the aforementioned Part 373 renewal. While CWM's quest for expansion and a new RMU-2 landfill was not a topic on the agenda, collectively it was on the minds of many.
Opponents ranged from local residents and groups to environmental interests in the Buffalo area, to state and regional environmental and religious interests. Of the 11 who spoke, opponents outnumbered those in support by a seven to four margin at the first session, with a similar response found in the second. All conveyed a familiar message to DEC, that the continued existence of CWM's hazardous waste landfilling and related operations is not seen as benefitting northern Niagara County nor its residents. Notable comments included:
•Youngstown clergy, the Rev. Charles Lamb. Lamb, an associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Youngstown, told DEC he also represents the interests of the Environmental Task Force of the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church. "We are two mainline Protestant denominations with congregations across the country and about 60 churches in Erie and Niagara counties," said Lamb. "We work together and established a joint task force regarding environmental concerns."
Directing his focus to CWM Lamb told DEC, "You have heard and will hear convincing arguments from a scientific and legal viewpoint concerning why the permit should not be renewed. We have had enough toxic materials brought here already from areas that are glad to send them to us. It is time for CWM to begin its process of closing down."
... "From a spiritual point of view, Lamb continued, "we are to be stewards of God's creation and work to preserve our environment from exploitation and pollution. We are (here) to guard the health of our children against danger. We call on all people with spiritual convictions to join us in opposing the permit."
"Do the right thing," Lamb told DEC.
•Sierra Club spokesperson Ed McGreevy of Youngstown told the DEC reps he was presenting a letter from directors of the New York state Atlantic Chapter and Regional Niagara group of the Sierra Club. "We state our opposition to the renewal of a 373 permit," McGreevy said.
Sierra Club issues of concern presented to DEC included DEC's failure to modify a CWM permit to limit PCB and mercury discharges; the failure of CWM to complete corrective actions and prevent further PCB and volatile organic compounds and semi-VOC contaminations; the failure of DEC "to require excavation protocol ... to protect ... the community from exposure (to) radiological materials known to exist on (CWM) property;" and, "failure of the DEC to require appropriate financial assurances (from CWM) for perpetual maintenance" of its property following closure.
"In general, our position is that CWM is detrimental to the health of residents," McGreevy continued, as he reiterated the concerns of toxic waste trucks, leakages and childhood cancer statistics in the area. He closed his remarks by noting a DEC position statement already in effect: "According to the NYS Hazardous Waste Siting Plan adopted October 2010, there is no need for any additional hazardous waste capacity in the state. ..."
"Procedures should begin to close the existing facility," he concluded.
•Lewiston resident Tim Henderson. A member of Residents For Responsible Government, an area citizens group formed in the early 2000s to express the area's opposition to CWM following a favorable Porter zoning vote, Henderson told DEC that "the hazardous waste industry ... has become an occupying force in our area."
Henderson echoed the all-familiar complaints by residents of environmental injustices to the area, first by the decades-long presence of the Lake Ontario Ordnance Works and its impact, and then continuing with CWM. "There is absolutely no benefit to having CWM in our community," said Henderson. "With the amount of nuclear, solid and hazardous waste that is already buried here ... consideration for expansion is offensive."
"CWM is destroying our quality of life. Please do the right thing and reject this permit application," said Henderson, to applause by many.
•Attorney Vincent Agnello of Youngstown. Agnello, a former president of RRG, presented a number of concerns, including: DEC's continued granting of variances to serve the needs of CWM operations; questionable CWM discharges into the Niagara River; the long-term impact on the area from LOOW; the problems of toxic-laden CWM trucks and their impact on the area's safety and health; and DEC's continued preference of Niagara County as the treatment/repository location for wastes of all kinds.
"How much can a community be expected to bear?" asked Agnello. "Where is the environmental justice? Both the federal government and the state of New York have policies promoting environmental justice. I guess it is for everyone who does not have to deal with it as we have done for 70 years.
"I ask (Gov. Andrew Cuomo) ... to step up to the plate and end the insanity we have faced in our area for the past 70 years. Enough is enough."
DEC likewise heard comments in opposition at the later session from RRG representatives, who had a table outside the hearing at Lew-Port that evening with information supporting their arguments.
•Lewiston resident Amy Witryol, a former State Senate candidate, countered the remarks heard in favor of CWM, particularly those by Darren Suarez, director of the Business Council of New York and Amy Powell of the Buffalo-Niagara Partnership on CWM's economic value to the area.
"The expansion of CWM affiliates in other parts of the country has led to the closing of public schools. It discourages investment," she stated.
"CWM's membership fees and donations to the Business Council and the Buffalo Niagara Partnership are much larger than its contribution to our economy. ...
"We are the largest destination of toxic waste, which is one of the key reasons we are not the largest destination for industry or jobs.
"Despite the purchase of influence (by CWM) with certain politicians and the purchase of advertisements affecting the news pages ... we will defeat CWM's 2012 expansion application; an application that may finally be ready for public comment later this year," Witryol concluded.
As noted, the forum also saw comments presented in favor of the CWM Part 373 permit renewal. In addition to the aforementioned Business Council and Buffalo-Niagara Partnership remarks, comments in favor also came from Jeff Brylinski, president of Teamsters Local 449, representing 25 workers at CWM; and Niagara County resident Melody Burrough. "I am saddened that people want to put their neighbors out of work," said Burrough. "There is a need for CWM and its expansion. With a closure, there goes the tax base."
DEC stated in its literature it will be continuing the public comment period on the Part 373 permit renewal until March 29. Written comments may be made to: Mr. David Denk, Regional Permit Administrator, NYSDEC Region 9, 270 Michigan Ave., Buffalo NY 14203-2915.