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EPA finalizes relocation plan for Eighteenmile Creek residents in Lockport

Five Lockport families living today along Eighteenmile Creek on property contaminated with heavy metals and PCBs will likely be in new homes sometime next year, officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported Tuesday.

The EPA will move forward with the permanent relocation of residents from five homes on Water Street as well as begin the process of demolishing the nearby abandoned Flintkote Co. property in the city’s Lowertown neighborhood, the EPA said in announcing its decision on the first phase of its work at the Eighteenmile Creek Superfund Site.

“The cleanup of the residential properties is the first phase of a multi-faceted plan to clean up contamination from over a hundred years of industrial activity at this site,” said Judith A. Enck, a regional administrator for the EPA.

The main components of the first of three phases of remediating the Eighteenmile Creek Corridor will include:

• Acquiring six private residences on Water Street, five of which are occupied, with the permanent relocation of those owners or tenants living there followed by the demolition of the structures and installation of security fencing around the properties.

• Excavating nearly 6,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil – roughly the volume of two Olympic-sized swimming pools – from nine properties, including the six residences and three city-owned lots. They will be replaced with clean fill and plantings.

• Conducting a “cultural resource assessment” to investigate whether any “artifacts of historic value” need to be removed from the properties prior to demolition.

• Demolishing the dilapidated former Flintkote Plant, just across the creek bed, at 300 Mill St., and removing any contaminated debris to an off-site disposal facility. Contaminated soil at Flintkote will be dealt with during the second phase of the cleanup.

The creek corridor was added to the Superfund list in 2012. Investigation revealed that “sediment, soil and ground water in and around the creek and nearby properties are contaminated with a combination of pollutants, including PCBs, lead and chromium,” according to the EPA.

Tuesday’s announcement was not entirely unexpected. Initial meetings in Lockport last June brought out droves of residents, many of whom demanded the EPA relocate those living on contaminated Water Street properties from their homes. Local, state and national politicians also began to back residents’ demands, calling for them to be moved.

The contaminants in the creek corridor are hazardous.

PCBs are “probable human carcinogens,” the EPA reported. They also can affect “the immune, reproductive, nervous and endocrine systems and cause other health effects.”

Lead, a toxic metal that can cause damage to the cognitive ability of children, also can have “serious, long-term health consequences for adults and children.” Chromium is associated with cancer and nervous system damage.

Since the summer public meetings, the EPA has provided residents interim protection while they await relocation. Stone barriers were placed between the creek and nearby Water Street properties, driveways were paved with stone and affected properties were capped with soil and sod.

EPA spokesman Mike Basile said Tuesday that the EPA’s “record of decision” allows physical work to get under way.

The next step in the process will likely involve the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers working with residents to help ease the relocation process. Once full market value for the properties is agreed upon, federal agencies will reimburse property owners and provide additional assistance for relocation.

Basile said it is uncommon but not unprecedented for the federal government to relocate residents from Superfund sites.

Love Canal led Congress to pass the Superfund Act. It was the nation’s first neighborhood relocation because of environmental contamination, with more than 800 families relocated in the late 1970s.

Others locally included the relocation of more than 50 homeowners from the Forest Glen mobile home subdivision in Niagara Falls about two decades ago and 8 to 10 others affected by the Diaz Chemical site in Holley, Orleans County, about eight years ago.