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Active week on Niagara County environmental scene

by jmaloni
Sat, Nov 23rd 2013 07:00 am

by Terry Duffy

News of interest finds the Town of Lewiston Monday approved its funding contribution with Niagara County for environmental attorney Gary Abraham, allowing him to resume his legal work on behalf of the area with regard to CWM Chemical Services. Payment of $50,000 was approved following adoption of the town's budget for 2014. Budget details as summarized in last week's Sentinel do not call for any town tax. The Abraham resolution approved Monday includes $19,000 in past due money for 2013 to Niagara County to fund his work.

The Abraham matter had become one of frustration of late to area residents, including members of Residents for Responsible Government, who had complained to the town that its non-funding was harming the community's interests on the approaching CWM legal issue.

CWM awaits a "notice of application" from the state Department of Environmental Conservation on its plans for expansion of its Balmer Road hazardous waste facility, which includes a new Residuals Management Unit-2 landfill. Both Lewiston and Niagara County have been on record for years as opposing CWM's plans and had enlisted Abraham to work on behalf of their legal interests.

But on Tuesday uncertainty over Abraham continued, as the Niagara County Legislature's Republican Majority Caucus announced it had nixed plans for a meeting of the entire legislature with Abraham. This followed a cancelled meeting earlier by the GOP Caucus members with Abraham, who had cited a scheduling conflict, according to local sources.

GOP Majority Chair Legislator Richard Updegrove of Lockport, responding to complaints by legislators Clyde Burmaster of Porter and Bill Ross of Lewiston/Wheatfield on the latest county inaction with Abraham, said he continued to prefer a private meeting with the attorney, now rescheduled for early December. Updegrove said he wanted to gain new insight on Abraham's past efforts and his hoped-for expectations on the CWM legal work. He left the matter with instructions for county legislators to submit pertinent questions by Friday for Abraham's review and urged all legislators to attend the committee meeting to hear his responses.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, findings of recent Army Corps investigations on elevated uranium concentrations in soil and groundwater at the Niagara Falls Storage Site was discussed at a Lew-Port forum with members of the Lake Ontario Ordnance Works Citizens Action Council and area residents.

Physicist Neil Miller of the Corps Buffalo District discussed the results of the Corps' NFSS "Balance of Plant Operable Unit Field Investigations" conducted in fall 2012. Miller told of elevated uranium concentrations on the NFSS lands and in groundwater in areas to the south and east of the Interim Waste Containment Structure. But Miller maintained the Corps' long-standing position that the IWCS cell, constructed in the mid-1980s, safe and is not leaking. "The Interim Waste Containment Structure at the NFSS is performing as designed and remains protective of human health," said Miller.

He said the Corps' investigative work included installation of 17 new groundwater-monitoring wells at six locations, plus numerous soil excavations and testings of underground pipes. These included areas just south of the IWCS where Building 409 formerly stood and on lands adjacent to existing monitoring well OW11B, a site to the southeast of the IWCS where elevated concentrations were found to exist.

Work involved detailed soil excavations at both sites and in areas on the northern perimeter of the NFSS, along with detailed probes of underground utility lines (water lines and sanitary sewers and manholes), and included the actual opening of lines for examination. "Every single pipe we examined, we opened up," said Miller.

He said results showed significant uranium concentrations in areas south and southeast of former Building 409, a building whose actual structure was demolished and placed into the IWCS cell at the time of its construction in the mid-1980s. Miller said, for example, that groundwater testing southeast of the former 409 site found uranium concentrations of 900 mg/liter, far exceeding U.S. accepted standards for uranium concentrations in drinking water of 30 mg/liter. Miller however downplayed that finding, saying that the groundwater studied would never be used for human consumption.

He said well, utility line and soil testing results on the northern perimeter did not show any cause for concern.

As to the OW11B location, Miller said uranium concentrations were detected in lands and in groundwater on the eastern side of the well but not on the west. Like the 409 findings, Miller attributed the elevated uranium concentrations to "past activities" at each location and again cast doubt about any linkages to the IWCS and any possible leaking.

Regarding OW11B, Miller said the findings of elevated uranium on the east of the well, but not on the west, reinforced the Corps arguments that the IWCS itself was not leaking. He attributed the high levels to waste pile storages of uranium in the area in past years and the presence of rail transit lines and activity nearby.

As to the 409 findings, Miller said that building was highly contaminated and that its contents had been placed into the IWCS cell, with resulting high uranium contaminations linked to the demolition activities. He again cast doubt on any suspicions of groundwater leakages from the IWCS. "The report concludes that uranium contamination in groundwater south of the IWCS and in the vicinity of well OW11B is due to historic storage practices and to activities performed during construction of the IWCS," Miller said.

He indicated that future monitoring/testing of wells at both sites would continue on the Corps' regular schedule of twice per year, but that no further investigations would be done. Miller also didn't discuss any plans for future cleanup at the investigated Balance of Plant Operable Unit areas.

Earlier Corps workshop discussions involving potential remediation/cleanup/removal of the IWCS proper were not part of Wednesday's presentation.

The presentation discussed is available for viewing online at http://www.lrb.usace.army.mil/Missions/HTRW/FUSRAP/NiagaraFallsStorageSite.aspx.

Very little comment was heard from CAC members or the very few in attendance following Miller's presentation.

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