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Groups want environmental assessment before Huntley redevelopment

One Bethlehem Steel site on the waterfront is enough.

Don't make matters worse by neglecting the former Huntley Generating Station, said environmental activists, teachers and others from the Town of Tonawanda.

They converged Monday at the entrance to the former power plant on River Road to call on NRG Energy to evaluate the site and oversee a full cleanup of toxins from nearly a century's worth of coal-fired electricity generation at the site.

Coal piles, ash ponds and fly ash landfill remain on the site, likely containing arsenic, cadmium, chromium, mercury and other toxins that have the potential to leach into the soil, groundwater and Niagara River if the site isn't properly remediated, environmental advocates said.

NRG announced last week it placed the 84-acre site for sale, prompting Monday's demonstration outside the shuttered power plant. It stopped generating electricity two years ago.

Huntley Station is officially for sale

"We want them to take responsibility," said Rebecca Newberry, the executive director of the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York. "We want a characterization (of what toxic chemicals remain on the site) because without it, we can't even determine the next course of action."

There's been no acrimony between organizers and NRG over the recent announcement that Huntley's for sale, Newberry said. But she said the community wants to be heard — and have a chance to make a difference — about the site's future. She wants the company to hold a community meeting.

NRG Energy officials said the company continues working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation on formalizing plans to decommission and close the site. The decommissioning will comply with federal and state laws and regulations,  they said.

"We'll continue working with DEC, the responsible regulatory agency, in parallel with (commercial real estate broker) CBRE's efforts to market the site to qualified potential buyers and developers," David Gaier, an NRG spokesman said in a statement. "We will also continue to keep community leaders informed as we make progress on both fronts."

Besides the Clean Air Coalition, others groups participating at Monday's press conference included Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda Teacher's Association and student activists from the district.

"NRG: What is your plan for the cleanup of this toxic site?" asked Cheryl Hughes, a Ken-Ton science teacher, outside the plant. "We need to know the plan."

Added Evan Haeick, a sophomore at Kenmore East High School: "The student body won't rest until a solution that is economically and environmentally friendly is found."

Waterkeeper supports a site remediation and reuse, but said it must focus on protecting water quality, the environment and public access.

"This waterfront site is heavily impacted by the presence of coal piles, ash ponds and a fly ash landfill that have the potential to run off into the Niagara River, as well as leach into soil ground water," Jill Jedlicka, Waterkeeper's executive director, said in a statement. "Restoration and reuse of this site must take into consideration the Niagara River's critical role in providing drinking water to communities in Western New York."

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