CWM Chemical Services wants the federal government to clean up radiological contamination on a part of its property it is considering for a new hazardous waste landfill.
In a letter sent to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., CWM has requested radiological contamination be removed from a piece of former federal land that now is part of its Town of Porter facility.
"If the Department of Defense/Army Corps of Engineers fail to address this contamination in a timely fashion," the April letter from District Manager Michael D. Mahar reads, "CWM will do so and will seek to recover all of its costs from the United States."
The company's request has been followed by a Department of Energy effort to begin reviewing records of environmental conditions on former Manhattan Project areas in northwest Niagara County, land the government sold and that the agency had deemed safe after cleanups in the 1980s.
The agency's study of about 1,300 acres, however, has nothing to do with CWM's request, the agency said Thursday.
Rather, it is based on an inquiry from a Niagara County resident about possible contamination on one area of the former Manhattan Project land that's not on CWM property.
CWM, the Northeast's only commercial hazardous waste landfill, has faced delays in its expansion plans for its Balmer Road facility. The company did not mention its expansion plans in its letter to federal officials.
Christopher Clayton, of the Department of Energy's Office of Legacy Management, told The Buffalo News his office has had no direct or indirect contact with CWM about its request.
"We are doing a paper review of all the work that was done on the vicinity properties," Clayton said. ". . . The main thing is there is no physical work planned or intended."
The vicinity properties consist of about 1,300 acres of land that had been part of the former Lake Ontario Ordnance Works. About 1,500 acres of the 7,500-acre ordnance works were transferred to the Manhattan Engineering District in the 1940s.
The Niagara Falls Storage Site, which was part of the transferred land, contains a 10-acre storage cell for radioactive waste. The 191-acre parcel remains owned by the Department of Energy.
The Army Corps of Engineers has been responsible for the cleanup at the ordnance works and storage site since 1997.
There are 25 vicinity properties, all of which were sold by the federal government between 1955 and 1975, according to information on the department's Web site. Three of the properties were never officially cleared of environmental concerns by the department.
Some of the entities who own areas of vicinity properties include CWM, the Town of Lewiston and Modern Landfill.
Lewiston resident Amy Witryol, who has studied the CWM site and the former ordnance works for several years, obtained a copy of CWM's letter from the Department of Justice. Witryol said the Army Corps of Engineers concealed CWM's request from the public, despite numerous public meetings held by the corps and the Restoration Advisory Board, a volunteer advisory panel, on the cleanup.
There have been others in the community who've made hundreds of comments on the vicinity properties, but those concerns apparently fell on deaf ears, Witryol said.
"The community has conveyed a variety of concerns about certified vicinity properties for almost 10 years," she said, "and all of the sudden, now that CWM wants the federal government to pay for the cleanup of an area it needs [for its new landfill], a re-evaluation of all certified vicinity properties is taking place."
A corps representative was contacted about the criticism, but did not respond by The News' deadline.
During a public meeting on the environmental investigation in Lewiston on Wednesday night, both Witryol and Lewiston Supervisor Fred M. Newlin II said they opposed any proposal that would see taxpayer money used to clean up CWM's property. Soil disturbances at the site, they noted, had been banned in 1972 by the state Department of Health, though the ban was ignored by CWM and previous property owners until public outcry on the issue surfaced several years ago.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has since required radiological testing plans for the CWM site.