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Expansion of quarry raises water supply issue

LOCKPORT – City officials are worried that a planned expansion of a stone quarry within the city limits, with the blasting that goes along with it, might damage the pipeline that carries the city’s water supply from the Niagara River.

Lafarge North America, which is requesting to add about nine acres of land to its existing quarry, presented the city with an engineering report last year that concludes that the blasting won’t endanger the pipeline, which runs right past the quarry on Hinman Road. But city officials have their doubts and are hiring their own engineering firm to study the question.

“Until I’m absolutely guaranteed 300 percent, I’ll vote against the expansion,” said Alderman Patrick W. Schrader, chairman of the Common Council’s Water and Sewer Committee.

A public hearing is scheduled at the Council meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday on whether the city should allow expansion of the Lafarge North America stone quarry, but Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said that until the blasting question is resolved, she will recommend that the Council not vote on the special-use permit.

“I’d like to not see it,” said Dale W. Lawson Jr., Lockport’s water-distribution maintenance supervisor.

Lawson said, “The ground shakes here (at the filtration plant) on Summit Street when they blast every day, and that’s on the other side of the canal. I worry about that line every time I feel the ground shake.”

The controversy comes as the city plans testing of the 36-inch raw-water supply line to see if the 110-year steel pipe can withstand the pumping of treated drinking water from North Tonawanda. The cities obtained a $444,000 state grant nine years ago to consider whether Lockport should shut down its filtration plant and buy North Tonawanda’s water instead.

That test has been on hold for a couple of years because the city had no access to backup water. The Niagara County Water District’s system connects to Lockport’s at the Summit Street plant, but the valve to admit county water to the city system was broken. It dated from the 1960s, according to David K. Branch, county superintendent of water transmission.

The city bought a new valve last August for $21,115, and it was installed and tested successfully from April 21-23, according to James J. Devald, county environmental health director.

His department will have the final say on whether treated North Tonawanda water can be pumped to Lockport safely in terms of the quality permitted by the old pipeline.

Much of the 13-mile pipe, which carries as many as eight million gallons of water per day from the Niagara River to Lockport, was replaced in a series of projects from the 1970s to the 1990s. But the last three miles of pipe, the part closest to Lockport, including the stretch that runs past the quarry, never has been checked since it was installed in 1905, Lawson said.

Lawson said to test the condition of the pipeline, the city would have to switch to county water for about a week. That has to wait until fall, Branch said, because during the summer, the county may not be able to supply sufficient water to Lockport because of the demands placed on the county system by agricultural irrigation.

“There are certain times of year when we can’t take water from the county,” Lawson said.

The ultimate emergency fallback position is to use Erie Canal water as drinking water. Lawson said the city hasn’t pumped canal water since about 1992, the last time the raw water line was repaired. Schrader said, “We certainly don’t want to use canal water.”

But the difficulty of obtaining county water during high-demand periods raises the question of what would happen if the pipeline was ruptured – for example, by a blast at the Lafarge quarry.

Perry A. Galdenzi, a local Lafarge manager, said there’s nothing to worry about, based on the company’s engineering report on the impact of the proposed 9.1-acre expansion of the quarry.

The report from Greystone Engineering, of Saratoga Springs, notes that the city’s pipeline runs parallel and adjacent to a former railroad track, closed for more than 20 years, part of which ran directly above the pipe.

The Greystone study notes that there were never any reports of problems with the pipeline, which is buried six feet beneath the surface, from having trains run above it.

“Their conclusion was that it would have no impact on the waterline, based on our blasting pattern,” Galdenzi said.

He said Lafarge would install a seismograph, an instrument that measures the strength of earthquakes, atop the pipeline, and would alter the blasting plans in case of a threat to the waterline’s safety.

“You can charge the (blasting) holes in different ways,” Galdenzi said.

The report said the new quarry wall will be no closer than 300 feet from the pipeline. Greystone used equations to calculate the likely blast stress and found that it would be about 10 percent of that caused by a locomotive.

There also were test blasts at the quarry last year, with resulting ground displacements of no more than 0.01 inch at a distance of 250 feet from the explosion.

McCaffrey said the city will use the CRA engineering firm to reach its own conclusions. “I want to make sure the waterline is protected,” the mayor said.

The quarry expansion is key to Lafarge, which is running out of stone at the current pit. Lafarge’s application still uses the site’s former name of Redlands Quarry, and it yields an aggregate featuring limestonelike Lockport dolomite, which is approved by the state Department of Transportation for use in paving asphalt.

The 9.1 acres “is all high-quality DOT aggregate,” Galdenzi said. It would keep the company going for about a year.

Lafarge’s long-term plan is a major expansion to the south side of Hinman in the Town of Lockport. The company bought up real estate with the intention of expanding there, and Galdenzi said the company applied to the state Department of Environmental Conservation for a permit earlier this year.

“We’re in the very early stages. There’s correspondence going back and forth. They have a lot of questions,” Galdenzi said. He anticipated that it might take two years to complete the DEC approval process.

“There probably will be a public hearing in the next couple of months,” Galdenzi said.