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Firm hired to design removal of WWII nuclear waste in Lewiston

Firm hired to design removal of WWII nuclear waste in Lewiston

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Niagara Falls Storage Site LOOW

The Niagara Falls Storage Site in Lewiston, a landfill holding radioactive waste left over from the Manhattan Project, pictured in 2014. (Derek Gee/News file photo)

The long-sought removal of nuclear waste from the World War II atomic bomb project, stored for decades in a 10-acre pit in Lewiston, took a dramatic step forward this week.

The Army Corps of Engineers announced it has awarded a $35 million contract to a New York City architectural and engineering firm to design the removal plan at the Niagara Falls Storage Site north of Pletcher Road.

The Storage Site is the name the government gave to a 191-acre area contaminated by nuclear waste, and the heart of that site is the 10-acre Interim Waste Containment Structure.

That's where the highly radioactive leftovers from the Manhattan Project and postwar processing of radioactive materials by local industry are buried under 20 feet of clay. It's about a mile east of the Lewiston-Porter Central School campus.

The storage site is part of the much larger Lake Ontario Ordnance Works site, land the government seized from farmers in Lewiston and Porter in 1942 and used for munitions manufacturing during and after the war.

The government's plan, which was announced in 2015 but not signed until 2019, is to remove more than 193,000 cubic yards of radioactive waste in the containment structure and truck it to a government-licensed depository in Texas.

The government hasn't said specifically when it's going to do that, and no funds have been appropriated for the work yet. In 2019, the cost was estimated at $590 million.

But the news of the latest steps forward was hailed by locals.

"To get rid of that site and get it out of here, I'm very much looking forward to having that area cleaned up," Lewiston Supervisor Steve Broderick said. "I believe it's happening faster than what I thought was going to occur."

The Buffalo District of the Army Corps of Engineers said Congress has significantly increased funding for the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program in the past three years. That's the government program dealing with nuclear waste sites derived from government programs of the past.

In December 2015, the Army Corps of Engineers announced a $490 million plan to remove all of the nuclear waste from the Niagara Falls Storage Site in Lewiston. More than three years later, all of that waste remains buried under 20 feet of clay. The Corps has not followed through with the removal work, or even issued a “record

The funding hike allows accelerated cleanup of other sites where work has already begun, and makes it possible that the Lewiston site might be cleaned up sooner than expected.

"We've waited quite a long time," said Wendy Guild Swearingen, who served on the Citizens Advisory Committee for the site. "Any first step is a good step."

She said the presence of the nuclear waste weighs on the minds of many Lewiston residents.

"It's safe where it is, but it only lasts a certain amount of time, and we've got to get it out before the site degrades," Swearingen said. "You don't want a nuclear waste facility close to where students are getting educated, and I think it would have a really wonderful effect on home values if that were to go. I feel like more businesses would come here. It doesn't hurt to get tons and tons of nuclear waste removed from your town."

Late last year, the Corps sought bids from companies interested in designing the project and serving as the construction management firm.

Thursday, the Corps announced it had chosen JE Architects/Engineers for the $35 million contract, which runs for five years with a five-year renewal option.

"We will complete the plans and designs in several steps," the Corps' Buffalo office said in a statement announcing the award of the contract.

"The first step, which is scheduled to start this fall, includes preparation of the work plans to guide the overall design phase effort. Future steps will include preparing the detailed plans and specifications for us to award additional construction and environmental remediation contracts to physically complete the cleanup," the Corps said.

Besides planning for the excavation of the Niagara Falls Storage Site, JE's assignment includes preparation for the cleanup of the soil and groundwater around the landfill.

The Corps said it is continuing work on a formal record of decision needed to begin the cleanup of the outlying areas; that document is expected sometime next year.

After that, the Corps hopes to award a contract for the actual cleanup of the outlying areas' soil and groundwater "in the 2023-2024 time frame," the Corps said.

It also awarded a contract Friday for construction of a modular field office at the storage site, but the Corps didn't say who will build that or how much it will cost.

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