For Niagara Falls residents, Saturday, July 29, 2017 will be a date that will live in odifery. That’s the day the Niagara Falls Waste Water Treatment Plant released untold gallons of sewage and sediment into the Niagara River, causing a disgusting black discharge that enveloped a Maid of the Mist boat, its dock, and the shoreline. A fetid stench enveloped the area, killing the appetites of nearby tourists and generally making the case for a rotten day.
By the following Sunday morning, the dark water and its smell were gone, but the controversy lingers on, much like a foul odor. On August 1, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to investigate the incident. They had almost immediately concluded that there was a clear violation of water quality standards.
That determination ran afoul of Niagara Falls Water Board Executive Director Rolf Porter’s position that the discharge was within the authority of their permit to routinely flush their filtration basin. Initially, the Water Board characterized the discharge action as an ill-timed maintenance action.
Then on August 4, the Water Board switched gears and blamed an employee for leaving his post, thereby allowing a pump to operate longer than intended, and push the discharge into the river.
Allegations have been thrown around, ascribing political motives after numerous high-level administrators were fired earlier this year. On top of the DEC investigation, the New York Attorney General stands ready to assist. The Niagara Falls Police Department has also been called in.
On August 10, the County Legislature asked the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the NY Attorney General and the Niagara County District Attorney to criminally investigate the matter.
Just a second here, folks, but dare I ask, what’s the big stink about?
Yes, something happened, something that looked ominous and smelled odious, and was certainly out of the ordinary. But was it so horrid, so violative of the human condition that it requires investigation by almost every local, state and federal agency with the slightest shred of jurisdiction?
After the heavy rainfall on Tuesday, another discharge incident took place, which apparently is not as uncommon as an unknowing populace previously thought.
Admittedly, the Water Board’s shifting explanation raises concern, and we need to get to the bottom of it, but let’s keep things in perspective.
No one died. All the children made it home to their beds. And not a drop of blood was shed.
With so many government investigative agencies (and an engineering firm at a cost not to exceed $25,000) poking around, a lot of people will be motivated to find something wrong, if only to justify their presence. Indeed, an investigation is warranted, but how many investigators are needed to figure out what happened that Saturday afternoon?
Already, some unnamed employee, christened a “Trainee”, has been put in the crosshairs. Is he a pawn in a larger political game? Was he lured away from his post under false or questionable pretenses? Was it routine maintenance or something else?
If this does somehow reach the level of criminal inquiry, one would hope that the targets are properly chosen. It seems unlikely that a trainee would intentionally cause such a massive and dirty incident. If he is at fault, this could just be a huge accident which, while resulting in a big mess, should not result in criminal charges. If there is a nefarious design, then let’s find the chains, but please, let’s see some proof first.
After all, on July 29, the river ran black; not red.