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LOVE CANAL BATTLE SEEMS TO BE HEADED FOR THE COURTS

What ever happened to the art of compromise?

Someplace in the middle there must be a solution to the muddle of Love Canal.

But government has become intransigent, citizens groups adamant and a lot of people are caught in the middle.

Despite the assurances of a multimillion, multiyear habitability study, questions remain about the rush to resettle. No responsible official is saying it's "safe" to live there, just that two-thirds of it are no worse than other areas of the city. And questions remain on the Love Canal Area Revitalization Agency's land-use plans.

Many of the issues appear headed for a court battle:

Did government meet the letter and spirit of the special Superfund provisions for Love Canal? is the environmental impact statement adequate? Have the risks been properly assessed? Did government properly study all possible land uses? Will future residents be adequately safeguarded?

Residents such as Wayne Morgan and Louise Lewis feel pressured to move, to make way for the Love Canal Area Revitalization's drive to use the area for light industrial and commercial uses.

Environmentalists such as Lois Gibbs, Roger Cook and Jacqueline Warren are concerned because of the precedent resettlement will mean for other dump sites and question the long term safety of the site and its surroundings.

Officials such as Mayor Michael C. O'Lauglin want to put Love Canal behind them. Only Frank Soda has voiced reservations about the speed to sell homes.

Federal toxic cleanup laws now require "a permanent solution" at Superfund sites and Love Canal falls short of that goal. The tons of toxic chemicals remain, contained, but not abated. Every five years, federal officials must return to the site and determine if the "solution" is adequate.

While today's canal containment, like that of Hooker Chemical and Plastics Corp. (now Occidental Chemical Corp.) three decades ago, may be state of the art, it's as far from a man on the moon landing as Orville and Wilbur Wright's first flight on the sands of North Carolina's outer banks. Pumping and treating, in the view of some experts, is not the ultimate answer.

Recent studies indicated massive contamination of ground water under Niagara Falls. Ultimately the fate of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario are tied to the technological breakthrough that will end the migration of toxic wastes through underground streams.

Resettlement at Love Canal under current terms is troublesome for this very reason. Someday it may be necessary to go back and carry out a permanent fix.

Meanwhile, one wonders if there isn't some middle ground:

Is it necessary to convert an existing residential area to the east of the canal to business and industrial use or is it simply greed for a better tax return?

Why isn't the revitalization agency encouraging the state DEC to go full speed on cleaning up the area that State Health Commissioner Dr. David Axelrod deemed unsuitable for resettlement?

What's wrong with establishing a real buffer -- say two or three blocks wide around the existing fence -- so if further work is necessary it would serve as a protective barrier for those who choose to move to the area? In the unlikely event that the present remedy is the last, the buffer could revert to parkland.

If resettlement takes place, what assurance do new home buyers have that officials will plan compatible development of the huge block of vacant land formerly used for municipal housing?

William K. Reilly, head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, slammed the door on possible mediation of the differences. Now Axelrod, who had a degree of control over the ultimate use of the site, will review the development plan and the environmental impact statement. Aides say it's impossible to rule out anything because the commissioner is unpredictable when it comes to this type of a decision. Given the time and energy he had devoted to Love Canal over a decade, he could hold the key to compromise.

Otherwise we may be in for a round of contentious litigation with one side trying to sweep the legacy of Love Canal under the rug by renaming it Black Creek Village and the other side using its energy to block resettlement.

It seems time for wiser heads and leadership to sit down and attempt to resolve this vexing issue. Love Canal isn't going to go away -- ever. The goal should be an orderly transition and that won't occur if resettlement is rammed through regardless of the feelings of the people affected.
Friends of the Woods wants the state Department of Environmental Conservation to form a citizen's advisory group to oversee activities at Reinstein Nature Preserve in Cheektowaga.

President Michael Papero said the group has enlisted the support of Assemblyman Paul A. Tokasz and State Sen. Dale Volker, but thus far has gotten a lukewarm response from DEC.

Regional Director John J. Spagnoli of DEC said the department would join in any overall open space management plan, but he opposes an advisory panel, noting that there was general agreement on a management plan when it was circulated and adopted a year ago. "It is a preserve and the only management involves assisting visitors to the area," he said.

One of the group's immediate concerns is the rapid loss of habitat for deer. Papero says the group has been successful in getting a developer to sell some land adjacent to the Reinstein preserve to the state and hopes it has been successful in discouraging development of a golf course in Stiglmeier Park. But he sees a bipartisan citizen, town and state advisory panel as essential for the future.