Federal regulators responsible for the cleanup of a World War II-era weapons production and storage site in Niagara County have made a move aimed at helping a strained relationship with the community.
Initial indications are that it won't actually change a lot.
The commander of the Army Corps of Engineers' Buffalo District announced today the agency plans to bring in a technical facilitator, with discussions about executing the plan set for later this year.
Members of an advisory panel shunned by the agency have said they believe a facilitator is needed to help resolve disputes between the two sides over the environmental investigation at the former Lake Ontario Ordnance Works and Niagara Falls Storage Site, located in the towns of Lewiston and Porter.
But the head of the Lake Ontario Ordnance Works Restoration Advisory Board believes the message from corps' officials is more of the same.
Joseph A. Gardella, advisory board chairman, said there's a lack of details in today's announcement, and advisory board members "don't have to wait until September" to discuss them. The panel's leadership is ready to talk now, Gardella said.
"The only good thing I see is the admission that they're going to fund the facilitator," he said.
Gardella, a University at Buffalo chemistry professor, also said he wants details in writing, adding he wants to know what the corps' commitment will be.
The advisory panel was stripped of its official status by the corps. The agency had been seeking to form a new advisory panel, a move it said was needed in order to meet Department of Defense guidelines.
But such an entity, as defined in regulations, "would not meet the needs of the community and local stakeholders," the agency said today.
Area governments have stood behind the current version of the advisory board, telling regulators they want the board to be recognized and dealt with as the community's representatives.“It is very clear that highly interested members of the community and stakeholders seek to contribute their expertise on technical issues in greater detail, especially regarding the [Interim Waste Containment Structure],” Lt. Col. Daniel B. Snead said in a written statement today. “Because of this, we have reached out to the US Environmental Protection Agency to gain their lessons learned with technical facilitators at other environmental cleanup sites.
Snead (pictured at left) continued, "I have confidence that a facilitator will be beneficial for all parties involved in the cleanup of these sites. We are dedicating our next workshop to discussing the details of community expectations and options available for us to establish facilitated technical discussions as part of our processes for these sites.”
Corps officials are conducting an investigation of radiological and chemical contamination at the former ordnance works site. The site includes the Niagara Falls Storage Site, a 191-acre parcel with a 10-acre waste cell, known as the Interim Waste Containment Structure, which is used to store Manhattan Project waste.
Public, quarterly workshops have been held by corps representatives as part of their community outreach program. The advisory board used to have monthly meetings with the corps' technical experts working on the cleanup.
For the advisory board, its members are growing frustrated, and "need a way forward," Gardella said.
"Their legal interpretation, which we view as incorrect and illegal, is that there is no RAB," he said. "That's just a lie, but that's their position."
Here are some past stories on the issue:
Last September, the advisory panel's concern over their involvement was illustrated with members' questions over how the agency delivers information to the public.
Last month, the local advisory board brought in the former head of an advisory group that dealt with a radiological waste site in Fernald, Ohio, with waste similar to what's stored here.
For more information about the cleanup from the agency's perspective, visit the corps' website for their investigation.