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Soil cleanup is necessary at Barrington, board is told

Barrington Heights is no Hickory Woods, but parts of the neighborhood are going to need a cleanup, the Orchard Park Town Board was told Wednesday night.

Joseph A. Gardella Jr., a University at Buffalo professor specializing in environmental quality, addressed the board and a crowd of about 40 people.

Gardella said the subdivision, which is still being built, does not have the degree of chemical danger that is present at Hickory Woods, the beleaguered South Buffalo neighborhood residents are trying to flee.

"By definition of hazardous waste, it's not an immediate health danger," he said.

But, he added, tests paid for by residents have shown that levels of heavy metals -- lead, mercury and arsenic -- and other materials go beyond what would be expected in "rural soil," the New York State classification for most of the former farmland.

The Town Board has put a hold on development of several adjacent lots until Ryan Homes, the developer, can show it has met state standards for safe soil.

A cleanup is necessary, Gardella said, and the Town Board's challenge will be to determine the standards to which it will hold Ryan.

It could try holding Ryan to cleanup levels set in a brownfields standard that is still in development. Or it could try to get Ryan to provide the properties rural soil levels.

"I think rather than get into a long argument about what the health impacts are," Gardella said, "since everybody's agreed that there's going to be a cleanup, the extent and the quality should be the focus from the town."

Ryan has written to the town that it will participate in testing and a cleanup, and the Town Board endorsed the process.

Gardella suggested using aerial photos of the town from the 1920s and '30s to determine the size of the dump as a possible guide for where to test.

The problem came to light last spring. Kristin and Randy Matteson paid $350,000 for a newly built home on Montclaire Lane. Michael and Cynthia Honer moved next door after paying $385,000.

They moved into the development on the south side of Milestrip Road over the winter, and when the snow melted, they discovered the soil -- not yet covered by grass -- was an ashen blue-gray and covered with pieces of glass.

They eventually paid between $10,000 and $12,000 to have their soil tested and found there were heavy metals present, as well as industrial fly ash and benzo(a)pyrene, a semivolatile substance.

That was last summer. They say they were told by some officials that it was "just an old farm dump."

Dissatisfied with the speed of the town's reaction and with Ryan Homes' response, the Mattesons and the Honers have sued Ryan Homes. They also put up signs in their yards labeling them toxic sites.

Some of the neighbors, upset with the effects of the publicity, set up the Web site They have met with the Mattesons and the Honers, who agreed to take down their signs.

During Wednesday's meeting, the Town Board directed the Planning Board to hold up plans for another Ryan development, Pleasant Acres, until soil safety can be verified there. Some of the topsoil used at Pleasant Acres has come from Barrington Heights.


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