A plan to ship trainloads of hazardous chemical waste through the Town of Niagara to a transfer station in the City of Niagara Falls and then truck the material on town roads to a toxic waste landfill in Porter has town officials alarmed.
"These are some of the deadliest chemicals known to man," said Town of Niagara Supervisor Steven C. Richards. "They're going to have to find another way to get them to the site, because I'll stand on the tracks and stop the train if I have to."
Most of the waste would come from Superfund cleanup sites, said John B. Hino, a permit manager with CWM Chemical Services of Model City, which would operate the transfer station. Superfund is an $8.5 billion federal government program, created as a result of the Love Canal environmental catastrophe to clean up abandoned toxic dumps nationwide.
Once the chemical waste has been unloaded from the rail cars at the transfer station, CWM plans to truck the material to its landfill in the Town of Porter, the only hazardous waste site in the northeastern United States.
"Superfund cleanup material contains the most concentrated chemical waste on earth and can create disastrous human health hazards," said Margaret A. Guiliani, a local environmental activist. "It wouldn't trigger a cleanup if it wasn't hazardous to health."
The trains and the trucks, containing chemically contaminated soil and industrial waste, would pass through more than four miles of the Town of Niagara, most of it residential, Richards said.
The transfer facility would be built in the abandoned Lehigh Valley Rail Yard off Lockport Road near New Road, about a half-mile west of Interstate 190. It is right inside the border of the City of Niagara Falls.
From the transfer station, 1,000 tons of the hazardous material would be trucked daily along local roads to the landfill. Much of the journey would be made through residential and commercial areas along Military Road, Route 265, the town's main commercial strip and one of the busiest roads in Niagara County. From there, the trucks would proceed east onto Route 104, north on Route 18 (Creek Road), passing the Lewiston-Porter schools campus, then east on Balmer Road to the CWN site.
While awaiting transfer to the disposal site, the potentially harmful chemical waste would be stored less than a mile from the new Niagara Falls High School being built on Porter Road. The waste material could be kept there up to 10 days, according to a CWM engineering report obtained by the Buffalo News.
Richards blasted "this reckless action that will affect the surrounding communities."
"I will have nightmares," said Mrs. Guiliani, who lives in the Town of Niagara. "This area has been swamped with chemicals for years. I can't believe they're putting us at risk again."
Two of Mrs. Guiliani's 10 grandchildren attend Lewiston-Porter schools on Creek Road.
As the president of STOPIT, the Society To Oppose Pollution In Towns, Mrs. Guiliani is a longtime fighter in the battle to keep the Niagara area free of poisonous waste sites. CECOS, an international disposal company with an operation in Niagara Falls, lost its right to operate a hazardous waste landfill in the late 1980s as a result of local efforts, combined with those of a coalition of environmental groups statewide.
"Just when you think you've made some headway, Niagara County continues to be the dumping ground for the whole state," Mrs. Guiliani said. "I know this is going to be bad stuff."
'Not a problem'
But CWM's community relations manager, George Spira, said it won't be that bad and tried to defuse all the anxiety.
"People should not be concerned about the material we'll be bringing in," he said. "It's mildly contaminated dirt."
While conceding that some of the waste would be collected from Superfund cleanup sites and contain metals, PCBs and other chemicals, Spira said there would be no adverse impact on the environment, such as ground contamination or noxious fumes.
"Hazardous waste by its nature is not a problem," he said, adding that far more dangerous materials are transported through communities like the Town of Niagara every day.
"The transportation of gasoline, the movement of all railroad cars and underground gasoline lines are all more dangerous than hazardous waste."
Spira said he met with Supervisor Richards and explained to him the "benign nature" of the material.
"I don't understand why the supervisor is concerned," said Spira. "I think it's a great project. Everybody will gain from this."
Spira said CWM's hazardous waste site in Porter is the best operated landfill in the United States and the only one that has a "perpetual care fund to ensure that the site is monitored forever."
CWM's Hino said the waste material to be transported is "mostly soil with some metal and chemical contamination." He said the chemical waste in the soil is not volatile and would not release harmful gases into the air.
It is also unlikely that the material would contaminate the ground or generate noxious odors if spilled from the rail cars or trucks, he said.
DEC man disagrees
But Jeffrey Dietz, an analyst with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said Hino and Spira were underestimating the potential impact of the project.
"They (CWM officials) try to downplay it and make it look like a dump truck operation," he said. "But the material contains high levels of lead or mercury and is hazardous."
The transfer station would also "generate a lot of additional truck traffic on a very busy road," said Dietz.
Because of the hazardous nature of the material and the significant impact on traffic, the DEC has told CWM to provide an environmental impact statement.
Hino said his company will present that report in about a month and public hearings on the proposal are expected to be held within the next two months.
Solid chemical waste is currently trucked directly to the CWM hazardous waste landfill from points far and wide, Hino said. But it is "more cost-effective" to ship the material by train over the larger distances and transfer it to trucks for a shorter haul to the landfill site, he said.
Transporting the hazardous waste by train for what would be more than 90 percent of the journey would halve the company's transportation costs, said spokesman Spira.
"This project is critical to the future success of the CWM Model City facility," Rebecca Park Zayatz, the firm's environmental engineering manager, stated in a recent letter to Dietz.
CWM is a subsidiary of Waste Management Inc., a worldwide organization and the nation's largest solid waste transportation and disposal company. At its Treatment, Storage and Disposal Facility (TSDF), located on Balmer Road, two miles east of Creek Road in the Town of Porter, CWM landfills of hazardous solid waste and non-hazardous industrial waste from sites throughout northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada.
City approval needed
Besides approval by the state DEC, the company needs a building permit from the City of Niagara Falls. The proposal will require a review by the planning board and the city, said Senior City Planner Thomas J. DeSantis.
"Everybody, city officials and citizens, should be involved in the process to ensure a satisfactory outcome," he said.
"There are some questions that need to be answered," added Christopher Schmidt, of the city's Environmental Services Office.
The Town of Niagara has to be notified because it's an adjacent community, but town approval is not required, said Supervisor Richards.
Ms. Zayatz said CWM wants to go ahead "as soon as possible."
"CWM would greatly appreciate the (Environmental Conservation) Department's expeditious review and processing of the permit application," she said in her letter to Dietz.
A company called Genesee Valley Transportation proposes to buy a three-acre parcel on the old Lehigh Valley railroad property near New Road from the state Department of Transportation and lease or sell the site to CWM.
To contain the 5,000 tons of hazardous waste material that would be shipped there every week, a pre-fabricated building would be erected on a concrete foundation reinforced with steel bars, according to the CWM report. The structure would be 120 feet long and 40 feet high, with 35-foot-high walls and 8-inch-thick asphalt floors.
Inside the building, an elevated steel platform would be constructed over the railway tracks. A device similar to a front-end loader on a bulldozer would remove the solid waste from the rail cars parked under the platform and transfer the material to trucks parked next to the platform.
"At the end of each operating day," stated the engineering report, "any minor spillage occurring near the walls of the building, the floor area, or outside the building will be shoveled and/or broom-swept clean."
The transfer station would be operated by a maximum of three to four employees, CMW said.
The trucks, full of the hazardous material and covered with water-resistant tarpaulins, would head out of the rail yard onto an access road that crosses three sets of railway tracks, one of which is active. "Appropriate signals will be installed at the active rail crossing, if required," the report said.
The trucks would proceed a half-mile east on Lockport Road to Military Road and cross over into the Town of Niagara just past the I-190 overpass.
From that point, the trucks would roll north along Military Road through Town of Niagara territory for almost two miles, entering the Town of Lewiston just past Route 31. They would continue on Military Road to where it ends at Route 104, turn north onto Creek Road (Route 18), passing the Lewiston-Porter elementary, junior high and high schools, and then onto Balmer Road to the waste disposal site.
The trucks would operate from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday, and Saturday and Sunday if necessary, the CWM report said.
Earlier sale blocked
Richards questioned the Department of Transportation's environmental responsibility in making the railroad property available for such a use. Three years ago, the Town of Niagara tried to get the DOT to sell an abandoned railroad station on Haseley Drive to a private developer for a subway train repair business, but the DOT declined, he said.
"The DOT wouldn't sell the building for a good, safe business, yet they are going to sell a similar property for hazardous waste transfer. This ticks me off," said Richards angrily.
"This is a serious matter," said Deputy Supervisor Danny W. Sklarski. "We can't allow our residents and businesses to be exposed to the risk of a potential environmental catastrophe."
Town of Niagara Councilman Wally W. Blake, the liaison to the town's Environmental Commission, said the transfer station would have a "major, major impact on the residential and commercial development of the town."
The Town of Niagara is the smallest town in Niagara County, yet is currently enjoying the biggest commercial growth in the county, Richards said.
"The economic center of Niagara County has shifted from Niagara Falls to Military Road," Richards said in an earlier interview about a recent surge in commercial building permits -- 47 in the first eight months of this year, compared to 29 for all of 1998.
Not a campaign issue
Richards, Sklarski and Blake are all running for re-election in November, but each of them is unopposed and said they have no "hidden political agenda."
"As elected representatives, it's our responsibility to ensure the safety of our residents," said Sklarski.
Do Richards and members of the Town Council really have any say about what travels over town roads or rail lines?
"When we know about it and when it affects our community, you bet we do," said Richards.
Richards said the transfer station should be built in Lewiston.
"Since Lewiston approved the expansion of the Model City waste facility for a few silver coins, they should reactivate the old Hojack line along the escarpment to accommodate the transfer station," Richards said, referring to a railroad that ran between Niagara Falls and Lewiston many years ago.
"If Lewiston-Porter wants to have the only hazardous waste site in the northeastern United States, that's their business," said Richards. "But they're not going to ship poisonous chemicals through my town."