The state filed a lawsuit Thursday in an effort to require the cleanup of an illegal solid waste transfer station in Buffalo's Clinton-Bailey neighborhood.
Chem-Rail Logistics, Express Intermodal Service and Canadian Pacific Railroad are accused by the state attorney general's office and the Department of Environmental Conservation of violating environmental laws and creating a public nuisance at the SK Rail Yard.
Besides seeking the removal of the garbage on site and preventing more from coming in, the lawsuit asks for penalties in an amount to be determined by State Supreme Court in Erie County, where the suit was filed.
As much as 40 million pounds of garbage and construction debris are held in about 400 rail containers brought up from the metropolitan New York City area. The waste was destined for Modern Disposal landfill in Lewiston, but financial problems at Chem-Rail have left it in the rail yard since fall.
"It is unconscionable that the citizens of Buffalo have had to live with the odor and pest problems caused by the irresponsible actions of these three companies," said Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer. "With this action, the state is asking the court to compel the companies to clean up their operations immediately."
News of the lawsuit was welcomed by neighborhood activists.
"I was ecstatic when I heard they had filed suit against these three companies -- it's about time," said Mary Taber, spokeswoman for the Clinton-Bailey Community Association.
"It's a big step for this little neighborhood," Taber said Thursday afternoon, walking along Manitoba Street. "We don't have the resources to do a lot of things."
But there are more problems to be solved, she said.
Taber said she learned this week that Modern Disposal is now refusing to accept the garbage sitting at the rail yard.
According to a memo from the office of Sen. William T. Stachowski, D-Buffalo:
"That decision was based on several factors, including the fact that Modern has apparently signed contracts with other firms, which are now utilizing the capacity put aside for the NY/NJ garbage."
Discussions are continuing with Modern, but other landfills and incinerators will be pursued, the memo states.
Taber noted that Modern has a contract with Buffalo. "We pay them (big) bucks for taking the city's garbage," she said. "They could have been more cooperative.
Express InterModal Service is the only local company named in the lawsuit. The Buffalo company was contracted by Chem-Rail, which has a business address in Manhattan, to transfer the containers from rail cars to trucks.
"I don't know anything about this," Joseph J. Jacobi of Express InterModal said Thursday when contacted about the lawsuit.
Jacobi said his company is owed more than $250,000 by Chem-Rail for the transfers it did perform. Express Intermodal's small office at the edge of the rail yard has since closed.
There has been no communication with Chem-Rail in about two months, Jacobi said. "I've heard nothing. No one is talking to us," he said. "My position has been '(I'm) just trying to get my money.' "
The situation also is affecting the finances of the other parties.
The company that owns the containers wants them back, officials have said, and Canadian Pacific is leasing the SK Rail Yard site from Norfolk Southern Railway. Containers that remain on rail cars in the yard are tying up the tracks in the otherwise active yard.
"Everybody is losing bucks, and we're stuck with the trash," Taber said.