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Residents threaten Wheatfield with lawsuits

Fri, Jan 27th 2017 04:10 pm

By Lauren Zaepfel

Tribune Editor

More than 20 notices of claim have been filed by North Tonawanda residents against the Town of Wheatfield, each for $60 million, accusing the town of neglecting to remove toxic waste from the Niagara Sanitation Landfill site.

Residents of Forbes Terrace in North Tonawanda had their properties tested through soil sampling last summer, and the results received in November 2016 indicated the presence of hazardous chemicals, including Love Canal waste elements.

These residents are claiming the chemicals have migrated from the Niagara Sanitation Landfill to their properties, making them ill and causing health problems.

In 2014, the Department of Environmental Conservation ordered the remaining Love Canal waste within the landfill to be removed. It had been there since 1968.

In December 2015, the DEC reclassified the landfill off Nash Road from a Class 3 site to a Class 2 site.

According to the DEC's website, a Class 2 site indicates "significant threat to the public health or environment - action required," whereas a Class 3 site "Does not present a significant threat to the environment or public health action may be deferred."

Various chemicals were identified at the site by the DEC, including metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls, pesticides, caustics, and plating tank sludge.

The former landfill had been the dumping ground for waste from several industrial and municipal sites, including the Niagara Falls Air Force Base, Bell Aerospace, Carborundum, Frontier Chemical, Graphite Specialties, Continental Can and Grief Brothers, the DEC stated.

During Monday's Town Board meeting, Wheatfield residents urged board members to move forward on remediating the former landfill.

Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe said, although the property belongs to Wheatfield, the site is under the control of the DEC, and has been so since the 1980s.

"We can't go in there and do anything without their permission," he said.

Currently, Town Attorney Matthew E. Brooks is working with a group of attorneys, along with members of the DEC in taking the next steps to remediate the former landfill.

"The DEC will make the decision as to what still needs to be tested, what still needs to be approved for work, and we will be one of several parties who will end up having to pay for that, including possibly some superfund money," Cliffe said. "We're a long way from that happening."

In the meantime, Cliffe said the DEC has permitted the town to place a fence around the landfill. New York State Sen. Robert G. Ortt secured $75,000 in state capital funds to cover a portion of the cost in February 2016.

"Unfortunately, it's a grant," Cliffe said. "It has to go through the same grant process that the other grants go through. It's basically guaranteed that we will eventually get the money, but we do have to get it approved to start the work."

Cliffe said the approval might not come for a few months. Once a contract is approved, he said the town is prepared to proceed with the process.

Cliffe said the board could take a chance and "jump the gun" by having bids placed for the installation of the fence, but the town cannot proceed with construction until the funds are provided.

"There's nothing I would love more than to put that fence up," he said.

On Monday, the town placed an additional dozen signs stating, "no trespassing" at the landfill. There is also a sign at the property's gate.

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