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Buried hazards anticipated in Niagara Scenic Parkway removal

Work is underway on the first phase of the removal of the Niagara Scenic Parkway along the Niagara River Gorge, and officials are ready to deal with whatever they may dig up.

That could include more of the same type of low-level radioactive waste that was discovered last summer during construction of a new entrance walkway in Niagara Falls State Park.

Work on the $36.5 million project has begun with work on utilities along Whirlpool Street, which is planned to be a major north-south traffic artery when the parkway is demolished in 2020.

The contractor, Mark Cerrone Inc., is on the lookout for hazardous material.

"They have not (found any) as of yet, but I'm assuming they will," Mayor Paul A. Dyster said Friday.

The project agreement approved last year by the City Council, State Parks and the New York Power Authority made the same assumption.

Dyster said it required all three entities to select a place where hazardous waste found on their property could be kept until it's hauled away at state expense for disposal at an out-of-state landfill.

The state agencies have not yet selected sites, but Dyster said the city cleared a spot at the Corporation Yard on New Road, covered the ground with a tarpaulin, and set up some barriers to prevent runoff.

He said that reports the city dug a pit to hold the waste are incorrect.

"It's a pretty minimal health hazard," Dyster said.

The waste is to be removed at least once every six months. "If they find a lot, it could be removed sooner than that," Dyster said.

Industrial slag containing low levels of radioactivity was used as cheap fill for many building projects in the Niagara Falls area from the 1950s onward, according to a 1986 federal report that listed about 100 radioactive hot spots in the region.

Part of the parkway, built from 1958 to 1967, crosses a former canal that carried water to the old Schoellkopf Power Plant.

After the plant collapsed into the Niagara River Gorge in 1956, the city filled in the canal with "municipal refuse, demolition debris and other materials," said a 2015 report by a consulting firm hired by State Parks.

"Industrial wastes were reported to have been disposed of there, although the type and quantity of these wastes are not known. The site was assessed and the results did not indicate the presence of any significant contamination," the report said.

The section of the parkway being removed was constructed with fill brought from the Niagara Power Project construction site, the State Parks report said.

The report listed 23 sites where hazardous materials might be found during the parkway and Whirlpool Street projects. However, the report said none of the 23 sites were mentioned in the 1986 federal radioactivity report.

Piles of radioactive dirt greet visitors to Niagara Falls State Park

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