Last Wednesday the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) held two hearings at Lewiston-Porter High School to gather public comments on the proposed expansion of the CWM toxic waste dump located at Porter, NY, a dump that the community has been struggling to close for nearly two decades with little success.
That's because, while an overwhelming majority of local residents favor closure of the facility, there is little desire outside of western Niagara County to dispense with the northeast's only hazardous waste landfill, named "RMU-1" (for "residual waste unit #1"), capable of receiving the nastiest substances known to mankind.
CWM wishes to expand the site, to be designated "RMU-2", by approximately 44 acres.
For decades, CWM has buried hazardous waste here from all over the continent, including thousands of tons of toxic and carcinogenic compounds. While some preliminary treatment of waste may take place, the general modus operandi is to bulldoze an area, lay down a couple of layers of thick plastic tarp, considered impervious at least until an earthquake, terrorist attack or workplace mishap occurs, dump the waste on it and then bulldoze dirt over it.
One of the enduring rationales for keeping CWM in operation over four decades (since 1972, the same year "The French Connection" won an Oscar for Best Movie and President Nixon visited China) is that there exists a natural clay layer under most of the county. This clay purportedly serves to contain the waste above the county's water table. The reason layers of plastic are laid on top of the clay prior to dumping is to make extra-special super sure there's no leaking below. Although on numerous occasions the waste has been discovered to be migrating laterally, most notably as a foamy discharge into the Niagara River.
Since "leachate", or toxic wastewater leaking from the dump, must be collected and transported to other treatment facilities for disposal, CWM is perennially not only the leading repository of hazardous waste in the region, but also the biggest producer in Western New York of hazardous waste pollution.
Following state Environmental Conservation Law, the Governor constituted a Facility Siting Board for CWM's Proposed RMU-2 landfill project. The Facility Siting Board is authorized to make a decision to grant the application for a "Certificate of Environmental Safety and Public Necessity", deny it, or grant it subject to modifications.
Gov. Cuomo appointed the following individuals to the Board: Paul D'Amato (State DEC Region 8 Director), Matthew Forucci, (State Department of Health), Darrell Kaminski (Region 5 director of the State Department of Transportation), Lynn Marinelli (State Department of Economic Development), Deidre Scozzafava (New York Department of State), former county legislator Lee Simonson of Lewiston, John Benoit of Lockport and A Scott Weber, Ph.D., of the University at Buffalo.
Six of the eight, of course, work directly for the State of New York, five (besides Weber) as administrators for one of its agencies, directly accountable to the Governor. One, Deidre Scozzafava, a former assemblywoman for the 122nd district bordering the St. Lawrence Seaway in northern New York State, was Gov. Cuomo's key representative to negotiations with Canada that produced the IJC treaty which will raise Lake Ontario water levels to the extreme detriment of shoreline businesses and communities.
Of the two remaining, the appointment of Niagara USA Chamber of Commerce board chairman John Benoit by Gov. Cuomo was bitterly protested by Residents for Responsible Government, the vanguard of the local opposition movement.
"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," stated RRG President April Fideli. "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."
In fact, former Legislator Simonson appears to be the sole member of the Facility Siting Board, which will make the determination as to whether the health and safety of future generations of Niagara County residents will continue to be at ever greater risk, who actually lives here.
A final determination will be made by the panel, although, of course, Governor Cuomo and his DEC could act to shutter the facility tomorrow, based on the fact that the state hazardous waste siting plan has for decades conceded that toxic waste in New York State is inequitably and disproportionately dumped, in flagrant violation of any notion of environmental justice, on the beleaguered citizens of Niagara County.
Highlights of the afternoon session included testimony by county health officials, state senate candidate Johnny Destino and Assemblyman John Ceretto, as well as upwards of thirty citizens. While not rehashing what they said here (the local daily provided highlights), most were strongly opposed to the expansion.
After recounting a couple of personal anecdotes about negative experiences he had had with CWM trucks, Ceretto finished his brief address by shouting at the residing DEC administrative judge and assembled panel. Wildly gesticulating, Ceretto bellowed demands to bring an end to the waste dump, to the delight of the crowd.
That Assemblyman Ceretto failed to introduce a bill in the state legislature this recent session to close the waste dump, as had been done by his predecessors repeatedly in the past, belies his misgivings and reduced his testimony to theater. Although, the Assemblyman did find time to introduce bills last term such as A09827 ("Relates to the labeling of foods produced with certain types of fertilizer") and A4129 ("Establishes age sixteen as the minimum age for assisting in the conduct of any game of bingo").
On the other hand, Lewiston Supervisor Dennis Brochey mounted an articulate and persuasive attack on the proposed expansion. "Thanks to Love Canal, the LOOW site and CWM, Niagara County has a staple of being a toxic wasteland and apparently an open door policy to anyone wishing to unload whatever toxic material that they don't want in their neighborhood," testified Brochey. "Some people have mentioned earlier today that it's a contaminated area anyways, so why bother stopping it? Let it enlarge. Gentlemen, if you have a cut on your finger, do you make it larger to fix it? No, you mend it, so let's work on mending what's there and not making it bigger."
Written public comments on CWM’s application can be sent by email to CWMRMU2@gw.dec.state.ny.us before Sept. 5.
A decision on the CWM expansion is not expected before Election Day, which is Nov. 4.