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EPA says cleaning up Eighteen Mile Creek in Lockport may start in 2018

LOCKPORT – The removal of contaminated soil from sites around Eighteen Mile Creek in the city of Lockport may begin in about a year and a half, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday.

The EPA said it has completed a "record of decision" for what to do next.

The plan calls for removing the contaminated soil on now-vacant Water Street home lots. It also calls for excavating polluted soil in city-owned Upson Park off Clinton Street, a former industrial site, as well as at White Transportation, the former United Paperboard plant, and at the former Flintkote plant, all on Mill Street. Also, the plan calls for excavating contaminated sediment in a one-mile stretch of the creek, including the removal of two dilapidated dams in the creek at Clinton and William streets.

The work is estimated to cost $23 million, but EPA spokesman Michael Basile acknowledged the money has not yet been appropriated. He said the work likely would be done in increments.

"This is going to be a long, arduous process," Basile said.

The EPA must develop a work plan in conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers, which will determine in what order the various locations would be remediated.

"Probably it will take about a year to develop the work plan," Basile said.

Excavation could start about a year and a half from now. Basile said he unsure how long the work would take until finishing the work plan. Some sites could be worked on simultaneously, he said.

Shirley A. Nicholas, a Mill Street resident whose activism played an important role in getting Flintkote demolished after decades of inaction, said she is not pleased with the timeline for the upcoming work.

"It's not going to start for at least another year. I'm not happy," Nicholas said. "It's taking too long to do what they should do."

"This (timeline) is typical at any Superfund site where we develop a record of decision," Basile said.

He said the Eighteen Mile Creek corridor was not added to the Superfund list until 2013, so the EPA is moving faster than it often does.

The EPA presented its plan in a public meeting in Lockport Sept. 7, and Basile said the decision reflects no changes from that presentation.

The EPA is still investigating what to do about the future third stage of the creek corridor cleanup, between Lockport and Olcott on Lake Ontario, a distance of about 13 miles. The State Health Department has issued advisories warning people not to come in contact with the sediment or eat fish caught in the creek.

The federal government classifies the entire length of the creek from Lockport to Lake Ontario as a Superfund site, but considers the epicenter of the pollution to be a cluster of industrial sites in Lockport. That area included the former Flintkote plant on Mill Street, which the EPA demolished in a project last year, some 45 years after the former building materials plant was gutted in a fire.

The federal government also bought five homes on Water Street in Lockport, located on the opposite bank of the creek from the Flintkote site, and relocated the residents in 2015. Tests there showed that when the creek rose, it flooded the back yards of those houses with a stew of dangerous chemicals, including lead, arsenic, chromium and cancer-causing PCBs. After the residents left, the houses were demolished. That work cost about $4 million.

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