Three people were named to a state siting board Thursday that will decide the future of CWM Chemical Services hazardous waste landfill in Niagara County – a burial ground for some of the nastiest industrial garbage collected from North America.
CWM’s existing landfill, which has operated since the mid-1990s, is running out of space, so the company wants to build a new one occupying about 44 acres. The proposal for a new landfill with a capacity of about 4 million cubic yards would extend CWM’s ability to accept hazardous wastes for another 20 years or so.
It is proposed just west of its current landfill on a site in the towns of Lewiston and Porter.
The siting board’s up-or-down decision is expected in late 2015.
Appointed as ad hoc members to the eight-member siting board by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo are:
• Lee Simonson, a Lewiston business owner and former chairman of the Niagara County Legislature.
• John Benoit, of Lockport, a retired manager from Delphi Thermal Systems and current chairman of the Niagara USA Chamber.
• A. Scott Weber, of Getzville, senior vice provost for academic affairs at the University at Buffalo who holds a Ph.D. in civil engineering.
Besides Simonson, Benoit and Weber, five others are appointed to the board as well by the state commissioners of transportation, environmental conservation, health, commerce and secretary of state. Those appointees have yet to be tapped, said Peter Constantakes, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
The gloves came off quickly in this latest battle in a decades-long struggle between the company and its critics as Benoit’s appointment came under immediate fire Thursday.
“For the governor to pick John Benoit to fairly represent this community is horrifying,” said Amy Witryol, a concerned Lewiston resident and long-time vocal critic of CWM. Witryol alleges Benoit’s ties to county Republican leadership who have received contributions from CWM, not to mention the chamber’s openly public advocacy for the company, should disqualify him from service.
“I’m asking John Benoit to voluntarily step down,” said Witryol. “If John Benoit won’t remove himself from the siting board, the governor should.”
Benoit didn’t return a call seeking comment Thursday.
Lori Caso, CWM’s spokeswoman, said the company finds “all siting board appointees to be credible and informed.”
“We look forward to offering any assistance so those involved in the process may have a thorough and comprehensive understanding of what our facility offers to those customers involved in environmental clean up efforts as well as industrial and hazardous waste generators,” she added. “I don’t think it’s a conflict of interest for any of the three people.”
The ball for CWM’s new landfill got rolling again May 7 when the DEC declared the company’s application complete. That day, it began accepting public comments on the proposed landfill, which some people call a hazardous waste dump. CWM’s initial application was filed in April 2003, but a series of delays in permitting and the state’s hazardous waste siting plan delayed the process.
In its 2010 Hazardous Waste Facility Siting Plan the DEC developed to guide decisions on siting new or expanded hazardous waste facilities, the agency stated “there is no need for additional hazardous waste management facilities or expanded hazardous wage management capacity in New York.” The plan cited a federal estimate that sufficient capacity exists nationally through 2034.
Although a big factor, that’s only one that the siting board, which will make the ultimate decision on CWM’s fate, will evaluate. It also “must consider several criteria related to CWM’s proposed project including: health and safety of adjacent populations, impacts upon water supplies, air, and groundwater resources; and the need for the facility,” according to DEC officials.
The last siting board in the early 1990s approved CWM’s existing landfill by a 5-3 vote with all five state officials voting affirmatively.
As decision time nears on CWM’s proposal, those like Witryol, Tim Henderson, April Fideli and other opponents believe they have the law, science and policy on their side and that the days are numbered for hazardous waste being trucked into Niagara County by the tons and dumped at CWM’s landfill.
“This is the first time we’re going in with the DEC saying no additional hazardous waste landfills are necessary,” said Fideli, the president of Residents for Responsible Government. “We feel very strongly about that. We need to end this nightmare of dumping hazardous waste.”
CWM offers a different view.
“There’s definitely a need for a hazardous waste landfill in the state of New York,” said Lori Caso, local spokeswoman for CWM.
“We are the only hazardous waste landfill in the Northeast,” she said. “Large manufacturers don’t put their black garbage bags at the end of the driveway for pickup. They need a place to dispose of their waste like anyone else. We’re the safe, reliable in-state facility.”
Caso said the facility, which was repermitted by the DEC last year, continues to accept waste at its existing 47-acre landfill on a “very limited basis” because of capacity and space constraints.
The proposed new 43.5-acre landfill would roughly be the size of eight football fields buried three feet deep in waste.
“It’s more of an extension than it is an expansion,” Caso said.
The place has garnered its share of notoriety in its 20-year history. The landfill houses the anthrax-laced NBC News desk of Tom Brokaw, lead and asbestos from the Erie County Medical Center and PCB-contaminated soil from local brownfield projects, not to mention samples pulled from Love Canal.
Witryol, who’s made it her quest to shutter the operation, said CWM shouldn’t be allowed to dump the nation’s toxins of the future in Niagara County – not just because the landfill isn’t needed, but because it comes with environmental harm, economic costs to the region and isn’t in the public’s interest.
“Why would you undertake something that’s unsafe when there’s no compelling reason to do so?” Witryol asked. “That’s why no one in the United States wants a hazardous waste landfill – because they’re dangerous. It’s impossible to run these facilities safely.”
It’s why Witryol and others are girded up this year for a fight to shut down the facility – one they say only comes around every two decades. And, they say, it’s not just a Niagara County issue. All of Western New York is affected, say opponents, because the hazardous waste is trucked in over roadways region-wide.
“We’re hoping to get everyone in the community out to let them know enough is enough,” Fideli said. “Our community has been dumped on long enough.”
“It’s been about a 20-year struggle. I’m certainly optimistic it’s coming to a close,” Henderson added.
Henderson has been involved in opponents’ struggles against CWM even before his son was killed in a head-on crash with a truck shipping hazardous waste to the facility in 2011.
“Behind the gates, less than a mile from Lewiston-Porter schools, there are 400 Love Canals. To me, it’s almost unthinkable they’re proposing 40 more years of environmental injustice. It’s time to take our community back.”
Those on both sides of the issue will have time to let the DEC and the siting board know their feelings. The public comment period is scheduled to remain open until July 7. Sometime before then, a joint public hearing including the DEC and siting board will be held. That date hasn’t been announced.
CWM, Caso said, takes a bad rap from vocal opponents who rely on faulty information.
“There’s a $12 million economic impact to Niagara County,” Caso said, including the company’s payments to the towns of Lewiston and Porter and the Lewiston-Porter, Wilson and Niagara Wheatfield school districts.
“This is a perfect place for a hazardous waste landfill. This isn’t virgin soil out here,” she said explaining CWM’s landfills are located on what’s known as the Lake Ontario Ordinance Works property – a site with radiological contamination from World War II’s Manhattan Project.
“This is already located on historically contaminated land,” Caso said. “You’re never going to be able to use this land for anything else.”
CWM said it employs 66 people.
But Witryol said CWM inflates its local workforce numbers by adding employees from an ancillary business. She also questioned the company’s self-professed economic importance to its community.
“The economic information they’ve published is erroneous and misleading,” Witryol said. “It’s my view the state is actually losing money on this facility.”
Witryol, who’s spent years evaluating data and documents from CWM and the DEC, said the company includes expenditures made both out of state in its figures and those that would be required by law to be made whether the facility remains open or is closed.
Moreover, according to Witryol, any benefits that CWM cites are overwhelmingly offset by state subsidies in low cost power, tax exemptions, its costs in regulating the facility combined with losses in housing starts and tourism, not to mention environmental harm.
“Nobody wants to live next to a hazardous waste landfill,” Witryol said. “It’s just not a good marketing plan.”