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Speakers debate proposed CWM landfill at siting conference in Youngstown

YOUNGSTOWN – Scientific topics occupied much of the time Tuesday, the first day of the state’s conference on CWM Chemical Services’ proposed new hazardous waste landfill in Porter and Lewiston. But eventually the conferees took up a more basic question – whether such a landfill is needed at all.

That’s the main question, said R. Nils Olsen Jr., attorney for the Lewiston-Porter School District, the Niagara County Farm Bureau and a local environmental group.

“Whether or not it’s in the public’s interest to have tens of millions of tons of hazardous waste is a subject the siting board can consider,” Olsen said during the daylong session in the fellowship hall of First Presbyterian Church in Youngstown.

Olsen said “public perception” probably is a factor in Lew-Port’s steady decrease in school enrollment. He also contended that CWM’s presence contributes to property values being less than he believes they could be. CWM’s 710-acre property was part of the Niagara Falls Storage Site, where the government buried nuclear waste from the World War II atomic bomb project and postwar nuclear processing.

Daniel M. Darragh, lead attorney for CWM, responded that he sees “a drop in school enrollment across most of Western New York based on a variety of socioeconomic factors.”

Amy H. Witryol of Lewiston, a two-time Democratic candidate for state senator representing herself at the conference, suggested that a comparison of Lewiston and Clarence might be instructive. She said both towns have highly rated schools and similar commuting times to downtown Buffalo, while Lewiston has water and recreational advantages that Clarence lacks – yet property values in Clarence are higher.

Witryol said the siting board is allowed to ask whether that discrepancy is “wildly random” or whether toxic waste disposal has something to do with it.

Daniel P. O’Connell, the Department of Environmental Conservation administrative law judge running this week’s issues conference, will decide at some future date on the topics and participants for the eventual formal hearing. He said he wants that hearing to explore subjects where the facts are in dispute and expert testimony could settle them.

This week, O’Connell said, “What we’re doing is issues identification, not issues resolution.”

Among the scientific issues is whether CWM’s landfill would leak into groundwater, and where that water goes. Gary A. Abraham, attorney for Niagara County, the Town and Village of Lewiston and the Village of Youngstown, offered an expert, Andrew Michalski, who says there is a channel in the bedrock that takes the water west, right toward the Lew-Port school campus.

Darragh denied the existence of a valley in the bedrock and said that before Michalski made that assertion, “Everybody said it flowed north-northwest.”

Abraham said, “There are five hydrogeologists who examined the site, and Golder (Associates) for CWM is alone in saying there is no alluvial valley beneath the site that makes the groundwater flow west.”

Darragh said that last fall, CWM drilled three monitoring wells west of the landfill to try to find the alleged flow, and failed to detect it. Abraham said the wells were drilled in the wrong place.

The DEC issued a siting plan in 2010 that said New York didn’t need any more hazardous waste disposal capacity. DEC attorney David Stever said the agency has not altered that plan.

CWM is the only licensed hazardous waste landfill in the state. It’s almost out of room, so the company is seeking to dig a new 43.5-acre landfill on property it already owns, near its existing landfill. It would hold 4 million cubic yards of waste.

Olsen said, “It goes to environmental justice whether one small community should bear the entire weight of this industry.”

Witryol said the eight-member siting board appointed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, comprising five state officials and three local residents, is allowed to consider “the public interest and equitable geographic distribution” in deciding whether to grant CWM a permit for its new landfill.

“There is an equitable distribution focus,” Darragh said. Olsen replied that Darragh had “an odd definition of ‘equitable.’ ”

Besides convincing the siting board, CWM also needs to win the approval of DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens, and it also needs a hazardous waste permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA spokesman Michael Basile said.