by Terry Duffy
The governor's office got the CWM siting board process underway on May 23 with the naming of three area residents, two from Niagara County and one from Erie County, to serve as ad hoc members.
According to news reports those named to the board include:
•Lee Simonson of Lewiston, a former Niagara County legislator and president of Simonson Associates. Simonson is also a local author and active with the Historical Association of Lewiston.
•John Benoit of Lockport, current chair of the Niagara USA Chamber and retired manager from Delphi Thermal Systems in Lockport.
•A. Scott Weber of Getzville, University at Buffalo senior vice provost for academic affairs. Weber holds a Ph.D. in civil engineering.
In addition to the above, the governor's office is also expected to appoint five others to the board - those coming from commissioners of the state departments of transportation, environmental conservation, health, commerce and secretary of state.
All will have input in the ultimate decision by the state to approve or deny CWM Chemical Services LLC's applications with DEC for expansion, which includes a new Residual Management Unit-2 hazardous waste landfill of some 44 acres. If approved, the expansion would enable CWM to continue operations well into the future, with DEC estimates ranging from 10 to 20 additional years. A negative vote would curtail CWM's operations to the existing RMU-1 landfill, which is fast nearing capacity and facing closure and would essentially put an end to future landfill operations at CWM.
It's an issue that has and continues to spur reaction from the community with many on edge over fears of approval and continued long-term CWM operations, and other minority factions supportive of the company and its presence in Niagara.
Thus far, reaction on the selection of Benoit appears to have struck a nerve with community stakeholders in Lewiston and northern Niagara County, including members of the Niagara County environmental group Residents for Responsible Government, which has called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to rescind the appointment.
In a statement, RRG President April Fideli argues Benoit as its chairman is at sharp odds with the majority of community residents who oppose the expansion of CWM.
Last November, it was widely reported that Niagara USA Chamber staff issued a memo to Niagara County seeking to sever expert legal representation by Gary Abraham along with his 10 years of site-specific scientific knowledge, just as the CWM permit process was expected to commence.
"Mr. Benoit as an executive officer and now chamber president will be hearing evidence from an attorney for the municipalities that his staff was attempting to fire," said Fideli. "That kind of appointment by the governor is insensitive to community interests and disturbing, especially when considering that executive agencies already control the board majority."
"We hope Mr. Benoit will spare Gov. Cuomo this controversy and remove himself from the siting board as a representative who is so at odds with the community. It's like giving CWM one vote, and the other 99 percent of the community just one vote. All three appointments should have depth and be sensitive to the community."
Since CWM submitted its application in 2003, every unrestricted Niagara County municipality has passed unanimous resolutions in opposition to siting a new toxic waste landfill, Fideli added.
"The intent of the three positions was to provide representation to the community," commented Lewiston resident Amy Witryol. "It's very clear what the feeling of this community is - every single community in this county and the County Legislature has unanimously opposed expansion.
"The least the state could do was to ensure the three appointees reflect the community. It doesn't seem as if this governor viewed it in that context.
"Giving deference to the community would strike me as being the minimum" on the part of the governor in this process, she continued. "These appointments seem to indicate a lack of sensitivity and lack of knowledge."
Simonson has been vocal in public forums over CWM's presence in past years and is generally regarded by the community as being not in favor to the company's expansion plans. Witryol viewed his appointment as appropriate in the sense that Simonson resides in a designated host community - Lewiston - but added she felt there were others of similar stature who could have been considered. "There are others in this community with the appropriate background who would do a great job," Witryol said.
As to Weber, Witryol said she is impressed with his background.
"He is very well regarded; he clearly has the intellectual capacity to participate," she said of Weber. "However, his participation would be more appropriate to advising DEC rather than representing the views of the community."
She cited Weber's connections with DEC, where he's been the recipient of DEC grant funding that has enabled him to carry out his extensive research. Witryol commented, "... He would expect to have longstanding relationships with CWM as a result of his participation with the Western New York Air and Waste Management Association Board. ... However he's largely unknown in this community.
"I think his (Weber's) service to the governor would be more appropriate in an advisory role to DEC than as an appointee to the community. ... He has substantial expertise in treating hazardous wastes, but that's a very small issue (compared to others) that must be addressed by a siting board. He should be one of many such experts, advising the siting board rather than being 'a community appointment.' "
"I have a high degree of professional respect for Dr. Weber, but knowing the research (he does) for waste agencies, the industry ... they're incompatible with my understanding of the (siting board's) intent ... regarding the community appointments."
As to Benoit, Witryol, like RRG, questioned the appointment.
With Benoit, "you have someone who has been involved in intense political controversy," said Witryol, referring to the Niagara USA Chamber's reactions on the Abraham funding issue. "He's had activity that's been conflictive with the community.
"It makes no sense to appoint him because of his chamber association that's highly conflictive. (On top of that) Empire State Development has a seat on the siting board."
Witryol suggested the region would have been far better served if the governor had chosen someone in a similar capacity who's more representative of the region, such as an official from the Niagara Region Chamber of Commerce.
"It raises the question as to whether or not the governor was properly informed as to the issues in Niagara County" in making these selections, Witryol summarized.