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NFTA AUDIT AVOIDS EPA FINES

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority avoided nearly a half-million dollars in potential fines by uncovering environmental violations and telling federal officials about them.

"We avoided $470,000 in penalties for basically $20,000 of remediation," Lawrence M. Meckler, the agency's executive director, said Monday.

Most of the deficiencies involved missing or incomplete paperwork and did not pose any immediate health threat, Meckler said.

The authority, for instance, failed to submit annual reports about hazardous chemicals at Buffalo Niagara International and Niagara Falls International airports as required by community right-to-know rules.

It also failed to maintain proper records for refrigeration and air conditioning systems at both airports.

Before disposing of spent aerosol containers as scrap metal, the authority did not verify that they were completely empty, so it cited itself for lack of documentation.

In all, the authority reported 33 violations at the two airports and at four Metro Bus and Rail facilities to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The NFTA avoided $218,350 in fines for violations at the Frontier, Babcock and Cold Springs garages and at its South Park yard.

The EPA waived $252,550 in potential fines at the two airports.

The EPA did not levy penalties for any of the violations reported by the NFTA.

Last summer, the authority hired a consultant to inspect its facilities, review records and question employees.

"It was pretty much a wall-to-wall audit," said Kim Minkel, the NFTA's director of health, safety and environmental quality.

"We went back to look at items over three years," she said. "Many of the things we reported as deficiencies had already been corrected at the time of the audit. Many had been corrected on the spot."

The EPA waived the fines under its self-policing policy, often used by hospitals and universities but less so by transportation agencies.

Under the policy, the authority agreed to audit itself, report and correct the violations and take steps to prevent recurrences.

e-mail: plakamp@buffnews.com

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