Share this article

print logo


A ghost town of trailers on a tract of broken dreams marks the Forest Glen subdivision in Niagara Falls, the development that was built on a chemical dump.

But just last week, the silence was broken.

On Wednesday, seven years after the last of the 53 families were evacuated, the Environmental Protection Agency released what it believes is the best alternative to remediate the 39-acre parcel: excavating the contaminated soil, compacting it and then burying it on-site in a 30-foot deep grave.

It's about time, said many of the relocated residents, who remain bitter after a battle that fractured their community and forever changed their lives.

"There was some really nasty stuff back there," said Terri Bauer, as she stood in the shadow of her boarded-up former residence, one of two permanent homes that marked the entrance of the trailer park. "I was really and truly afraid for my boys. The whole thing was a nightmare, a crazy time in our lives."

The Bauers were the first residents to leave Forest Glen. They can still recall the yellow, bubbling mixture seeping from the ground, and how it turned brittle and cracked in the winter. The couch the Bauers lugged from their house almost 10 years ago still sits outside, a grim sentry amid the overgrown weeds and shrubbery.

"I wrote contaminated on it," Ms. Bauer recalled. "I knew nothing about chemicals or what was going on. We fought so hard to get something done. Why haven't they done anything?"

According to the EPA proposal, the trailers and homes would be removed in order to prepare the site for excavation. Excavated areas would then be back-filled with clean fill and top soil, then seeded. Monitoring wells would be placed in the northern portion, where most of the contaminants -- including benzothiazole, phenol and aniline -- were discovered.

"This is an alternative we are selecting, but if there is a lot of disagreement, we will realistically review the alternatives," said Michael J. Basile, EPA community relations coordinator. "There are times we have changed our mind."

The alternative -- one of six offered by the EPA -- would allow the southern portion of the site to serve as a buffer to the neighboring community. Under the proposal, the site would be reviewed at least every five years.

A public meeting to discuss the option, as well as the five alternatives, is scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 15 at the Niagara Fire Company No. 1, 6010 Lockport Road.

The proposal caps an investigation by the EPA that included soil-gas tests and soil borings at a variety of depths -- some beyond 15 feet. The cost of the remediation effort is estimated at $15.4 million, according to the plan.

And while many former residents indicate they will attend the meeting, some harbor bitterness toward a government they believe was less than candid.

"I was the last one to leave," said Chris Schueckler. "The EPA promises you the world when they come in. They could have paid me 10 times and it would not make up for it. It was nerve-wracking. What kind of government is this? So cold."

Schueckler, a former volunteer firefighter, said his house was broken into three times while he was still living in it. He is vocal in his criticism of the government's handling of the relocation, and he is not alone.

"If the government told me the sky was blue, I would have to go outside and check," said Ronald Wells, 43. "I'd never let the government on my property again."

Wells, an 18-year resident of Forest Glen, had a pool and fenced-in yard behind his trailer. He also added a fireplace, as well as a $6,000 awning over a 12-by-70 foot porch. His renovated home was appraised at $25,000, and he received an extra $15,000 grant upon building a new home, which he did in Lewiston.

"The new house cost me about $18,000 extra by the time it was done," said Wells, a construction worker. "I wish I was back in Forest Glen, but we didn't have a choice like they did in Love Canal. We had to move; they didn't."

Like the other relocated residents, Wells left behind his picnic table, lawn mower, garden tools -- anything that was stored outside. Some residents also were advised to leave behind appliances, whose motors were not easily cleaned.

"My washer, dryer, freezer and refrigerator had to stay," recalled Helen Sumbler, 65. "I had to leave all my figurines in my yard -- all my cement statues."

Ms. Sumbler recalled spontaneous combustion fires and crumbling water pipes that were replaced three times. Today, she and her daughter live in a two-bedroom ranch home in Ransomville, a "rural community that seems worlds away from Forest Glen," according to the woman neighbors called "Ma."

"Sometimes I stand in the window and wonder what I'm doing here," she said. "It's been rough; each year I say I've made it one more year."

Basile of the EPA described the relocation effort as a smooth transition.

"We honestly feel the relocation efforts went extremely smoothly," Basile said. "It was a shock to notify them of the problem, that they lived on top of buried chemicals."

In total, about 160 former Forest Glen residents were relocated to homes in Erie and Niagara counties.

"All of a sudden, you were left with nothing," said Rose F. Douglas, who lived in Forest Glen for 12 years. "Everything you believed in and everything you worked for is not there. We were ready to stay for life."

The Douglases -- Rose and Norton and their three young children -- added a swimming pool, sunken living room and enclosed porch to their mobile home, and were one of the first families to purchase a land tract.

"Every time I pass it, I look over there," said Mrs. Douglas. "I can still see my house from the Thruway, and I get angry."

There are no comments - be the first to comment