Share this article

print logo


Kathleen McMullin: Former high school teacher. Mother of three boys. Previously taught sailors to operate nuclear-powered submarines.

Bruce Goodale: Career civil servant and former Buffalo resident. Elder in the Reform Church of America and member of the environmental councils of both his town and county.

John Dougherty: Penn State graduate who reads mysteries and spy novels and loves to ski. Engaged to woman who aspires to open her own bookstore.

Normal people in an abnormal situation.

Meet three key members of the state team considering three sites in Allegany County for use as a low-level radioactive waste facility.

They live in the Albany area and work together on the fourth floor of Troy's historic Frear Building -- reminiscent of Buffalo's Ellicott Square -- just a short walk from both the Hudson River and the imposing hilltop campus of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

In an interview here this week, all three said they are proud of their work and are convinced they can design a facility that is safe, efficient and -- eventually -- acceptable to the community where it is built.

But in Allegany County, their backgrounds and feelings carry little weight.

"We don't trust them," said Fleurette Pelletier, action chairwoman of the Concerned Citizens of Allegany County. "They're the enemy, and they think we're the enemy. It's all-out war."

So far, it's been a war of non-violence. Protesters, state officials and police said they are determined that it remain that way.

Still, the battle has its toll.

Commission members said they do not consider protesters to be enemies but are disappointed that they are employing civil disobedience, and, in some instances, are provoking rather than communicating.

"No one, and certainly not a mother, likes to be accused of being 'a baby killer' or engaging in 'cultural genocide,' " said Ms. McMullin, 38, the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Siting Commission's liaison to Allegany County. "The epithets flung at us are usually reserved for death-row criminals."

Ms. McMullin, Goodale and Dougherty were held in the middle of a ring of protesters for nearly five hours on a frigid day last December. Since then, Goodale twice headed technical teams that were repulsed from proposed sites by protesters blockading Allegany County roads.

"There's a strong sense of frustration because we have not been able to do what we need to do," said Ms. McMullin, a radiological health specialist. "It's very difficult sometimes to control your emotions and not say to the protesters: 'You're wrong, wrong, wrong.' "

But all three said their efforts will continue and will eventually succeed in establishing a waste facility.

"The state is not going to fold its tent," said Goodale, who heads the environmental-impact aspect of the siting commission's work. "We really have no alternative but to go forward. The waste does not go away."

Because of a federal law requiring that states dispose of their own radioactive waste, New York -- which previously shipped its waste to other states -- plans to construct a single storage facility. It is considering three possible Allegany County sites -- in the Towns of Caneadea, Allen and West Almond -- as well as two sites in Cortland County.

The state originally planned to have the facility in operation in 1993, but commission spokesmen said the delays caused by the protests have probably pushed back the opening to 1994. Goodale, 48, said the facility will be safe, and will bring jobs, tax benefits and new residents to the area.

"Allegany County probably would be better off as a result of the facility," he said.

The commission -- which has a total of 21 members -- anticipates spending $38 million to find a site and method for the facility, which will be built and operated by the New York State Research and Development Authority, said Clifford S. Seretan, the commission's administrative director.

The project is necessary, ethical and fair, said Dougherty, a hydrologist for an environmental consulting firm under contract to the commission.

"I have a lot of respect for the protesters for caring about their families, about the environment and about the future of the their community," said Dougherty, who coordinates many of the technical aspects of the job. "But if I thought what we were doing was going to present a serious threat to their health or their families, I wouldn't be involved in it anymore."

"I want to be able to go back 50 years from now and be proud of being part of making it a safe and efficient facility," said Dougherty, who is 30.

"We're trying to tell it straight," said Goodale. "We're not actors. We're trying to present the process as fairly and honestly as we can."

Nonsense, replied Gary Lloyd, a spokesman for the Allegany County Non-Violent Action Group.

"He (Goodale) is trying to do his job, which is to pull the wool over the eyes of the public," said Lloyd, who has spoken with Goodale extensively. "He's attempting to do the job he's been ordered to do."

So far, the protesters' acts of civil disobedience have largely succeeded in keeping the commission off the proposed sites. As a result, there is widespread speculation in Allegany County that the commission will be escorted on the property by the National Guard or through the use of other quasi-military methods.

"There are no plans now to bring in the National Guard," Goodale replied. "No one has talked to the National Guard or suggested that the problem is that big. I don't think that's necessary or appropriate."

Instead, he said, opponents of the facility will eventually realize that the commission will not be stopped and will cooperate with it to ensure that the project is done right.

Once the siting process begins in earnest, Ms. McMullin said, "our good, solid technical program and the quality of the work we do will speak more persuasively than anything we can say."

The commission has several times requested public meetings, but has been turned down by protest leaders. Commission efforts to set up an office in Allegany County have also been unsuccessful.

"People are afraid that, if they rent to us, there will be damage done to their property," Ms. McMullin said. "And they're very timid about openly seeking information because of the fear that they'll be seen by some as cooperating with the enemy, so to speak."

Those "emotional roadblocks," along with some "outright scare-mongering," are preventing residents from getting all the facts, Ms. McMullin.

"They have half the facts," she said. "They have one side of the story, but not the other."

Ms. Pelletier disagrees.

"We have detailed information, and that's why we are not cooperating. We have been educated on the dangers."

Ms. McMullin said the commission's efforts will be characterized by one word: "Persistence."

Commission members, she said, will return to both Allegany and Cortland counties as often as necessary to accomplish their task. With time, she said, reason will revail over emotion.

"I look at what we're doing as being a service for the citizens of New York State," she said. "It's not a situation where if we don't accomplish it today or tomorrow, that it's not going to be accomplished at all."

There are no comments - be the first to comment