A controversial Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. PCB storage facility on Dewey Avenue is expected to close in less than two years under a compromise settlement reached today with the City of Buffalo.
The building, two blocks from Main Street adjacent to Sisters Hospital and St. Mary's School for the Deaf, has been a target of opponents of handling and storing the cancer-causing chemical in the neighborhood.
"Niagara Mohawk has agreed to seek a permit to operate the facility for 18 months," said Council President Eugene M. Fahey after an early-morning meeting with Norman E. Crowe, general manager of the utility's Niagara Frontier region.
The company originally sought a permit to operate the facility until 2006 but announced at a state hearing that it was willing to cut the period to three years. Buffalo officials opposed granting a permit, but a hearing last month to settle the issue was adjourned when the two sides told Administrative Law Judge Andrew S. Pearlstein that talks towards a settlement were under way.
The storage facility has been operated for a decade in response to the utility's public commitment to remove all PCBs from its statewide system, a step that it took voluntarily and one that goes beyond government mandates.
During the protracted debate over a permit, the utility conducted testing and when it found PCBs-contaminated soils on the St. Mary's school playground excavated it . PCBs were used as insulators in electric transformers before its detrimental effects became known.
Under terms of today's settlement, the company will continue to operate the facility used to store transformer oil contaminated with PCBs until the state Department of Environmental Conservation issues a permit and for 18 months thereafter.
At that point the utility said it will
close the facility and proceed over a three-month period to decontaminate and decommission the building and its contents.
Crowe said the utility expects to complete removal of the PCBs from large equipment by that time. Thereafter it will use commercial operators to handle the hundreds of small transformers as they are removed from utility poles throughout Western New York. That process could take years, but he added that some units contain only small quantities of PCBs.
DEC Regional Director John J. Spagnoli said he anticipates that it will take about three months before the facility is issued an operating permit.
"We will have to await a report from Judge Pearlstein, but meanwhile we will begin review of the permit," he said.
Other terms of the agreement include:
Niagara Mohawk will continue to store transformers at the site but will send them to a commercial disposer within 90 days. It will no longer remove oil and place it in three, 8,000-gallon storage tanks located in a building on the site.
During the period the permit's life, the company will use its personnel to escort trucks carrying the chemical and will only use neighborhood streets to reach the Kensington Expressway.
The utility will file semi-annual reports with the Common Council on its progress in removing PCBs from the company's system.
Fahey said he will submit the settlement to the Common Council for approval, but said he has already consulted with members and Mayor Griffin. They have indicated their approval, he said.
The settlement in effect withdraws the city's objection to the DEC issuing a permit for the facility.
"That's incredible. That's great," said Dennis McCarthy, spokesman for the community-based No PCBs Task Force. "Fahey is to be commended . . . he has been relentless and this agreement is good for everybody in this neighborhood."
Fahey praised the company for its work on the settlement and said, "Crowe has shown responsible leadership in coming to this agreement."
Crowe, in a statement, said he appreciated Fahey's efforts and said he was "instrumental in working out this agreement."