Budget cuts, delays in Corps action on ROD at issue
Army Corps official to appear Tuesday at Lewiston session
By Terry Duffy
Plans by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to address a proposed $490 million remediation plan for the nearly 10-acre Interim Waste Containment Structure at the Niagara Falls Storage Site in Lewiston now appear in jeopardy.
Blame it on new proposals by the Trump administration that seek to cut the budget of the Army Corps by more than 30 percent in fiscal year 2020. Also, the unexplained delays in signing an expected 2017 Record of Decision by the Corps to finalize its Alternative 4 preferred alternative for excavation and off-site disposal of the radioactive waste contents of the IWCS cell. And rumors of a possible change in the government oversight of the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP).
According to a release by the USACE Buffalo District office, “The president’s budget for fiscal year 2020 released Tuesday includes more than $4.827 billion in discretionary funding for the civil works program of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, with $22.023 million set aside for Buffalo District projects.
“The civil works budget funds the operation and maintenance program, which includes the maintenance of federal shipping channels and navigation structures within the Buffalo District’s area of responsibility, and operation and maintenance of the Black Rock Lock and Mount Morris Dam.”
But not included in the Corps 2020 budget is any funding to address the long-sought Alternative 4 cleanup of the Niagara Falls IWCS – a project that won Corps merit and community approval in 2015, and is still awaiting the Corps Record of Decision.
According to the Corps, the IWCS remediation preferred alternative, known as Alternative 4, calls for “excavation, partial treatment, and off-site disposal of the entire contents of the IWCS. After evaluating the alternatives in the feasibility study pursuant to the criteria described in the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan (NCP), the Corps of Engineers considers Alternative 4 to provide the best overall protection of human health and the environment.”
“The release of the proposed plan for the Niagara Falls Storage Site represents the culmination of years of hard work and informational exchanges and interaction with the local community and stakeholders,” said then-Buffalo District Commander Lt. Col. Karl D. Jansen. “The preferred alternative in the proposed plan will provide the best overall protection of human health and the environment, and is responsive to the feedback and input received from the community and stakeholders during development of the feasibility study.”
However, coming off the Trump administration’s latest budget proposal, along with moves in Washington, D.C., to return the responsibility of FUSRAP projects back to the Department of Energy, the NFSS IWCS Alternative 4 remediation now appears to be on hold.
Joseph A. Gardella Jr., professor of chemistry at the University at Buffalo, who worked earlier with the Army Corps Buffalo District in developing the IWCS Alternative 4, said recent conversations he’s had with Bill Kowalewski, P.E., U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Special Projects Branch chief have found delays, stemming from the Corps Washington office.
“I learned ... that the record of decision (ROD) for the cleanup plan for the IWCS, which was sent to D.C. for final signatures at U.S. ACE headquarters, has not been signed and this is an unusually long delay,” Gardella said. “Thus the $500 (million) plan for total removal from the IWCS and permanent storage in Texas that the community was presented and universally embraced is still up in the air.”
Gardella also said he’s heard news there’s movement underway in Washington to transfer oversight of FUSRAP and the NFFS to control of the Department of Energy, a government branch that had earlier oversight of the Lake Ontario Ordnance Works site decades ago.
“I learned from elected officials that there is a new discussion of a plan to shift oversight of FUSRAP funding to Department of Energy,” Gardella said. “This is a troubling idea/proposal to me, since we have no info on how that laws that govern FUSRAP in the Army Corps would be changed.
“(This could) further delay or possibly completely restart the process for planning for the IWCS and completely derail the current plan for the IWCS.”
On Tuesday evening, the Niagara County Legislature, upon learning of the news for the IWCS, unanimously approved a resolution calling for, “the Corps of Engineers assistant secretary for civil works to immediately sign the Record of Decision allowing for the Army Corps to proceed and complete the NFSS proposed plan.”
And on Wednesday, following news of the stalled funding and the now uncertainties of the Corps future involvement with FUSRAP, the locally based LOOW Restoration Advisory Board announced plans for a public session with Kowalewski, set for Tuesday, March 26, in Lewiston.
Commenting on the latest news, RAB Chairman Bill Choboy said, “In December of 2015, when the Corps of Engineers issued its proposed plan to remove all radioactive waste from the Niagara Falls Storage Site (NFSS) containment cell, we thought our primary objective was virtually complete. All the community needed was the customary public comment period for the record of decision. We thought that the ROD would be published by the Corps in 2017, but that still hasn’t happened, even though the plan was supported by every involved state and federal agency.”
Choboy said Kowalewski is expected to discuss the Corps ROD status for the NFFS IWCS. Also likely to be addressed will be the current status/future of FUSRAP.
The March 26 Corps program will be held in the Alumni Room of the Lewiston-Porter School District Community Resource Center on the Creek Road campus. The session begins at 7 p.m. and the public is welcome to attend.