State officials want to remove soil containing “very high” levels of lead from the Tract II brownfield site off Highland Avenue.
Some North End residents wanted to know Monday night how the contamination and the proposed project might impact them.
During a public forum at the Doris Jones Family Resource Center, state and local officials said soil samples taken in 2008 and 2009 proved to them the need to remove lead-contaminated material from the eastern portion of the property which was for many years home to Moore Business Forms.
They also attempted to put residents at ease by saying that, based on their research, it appears as though the material is confined to the site in question and has not migrated into the surrounding neighborhood or infiltrated the local groundwater supply.
“It hasn’t, to our knowledge, migrated,” said Jeff Konsella, project manager from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the agency in charge of the cleanup effort.
The Tract II site extends along the southern border of Beech Avenue to the rear of the Power City warehouse site. It is split into two properties — an eastern and western portion. The city conducted a preliminary assessment of the site as part of a 2003 clean-up effort. The original plan called for two feet of contaminated soil to be removed and replaced on the eastern side of the property.
In reviewing the findings of the earlier study and in conducting additional tests on-site, Konsella said the DEC found “fairly high levels” of materials containing lead in the eastern portion of the property. The majority of the material is believed to have been dumped there in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Based on the high concentration of lead in the area, DEC officials determined that it was necessary to remove contaminated fill up to nine feet in depth and replace it with clean soil. Monday’s meeting allowed residents to comment on the proposed amendment to the earlier plan.
Some residents expressed concern about the potential impact of the contamination on homeowners living nearby, especially those with properties on 17th Street behind Tract II’s eastern lot.
Konsella said the DEC’s research suggests the highest concentration of contaminated material is located on the interior of the eastern portion of the property and is not in close proximity to private yards along 17th Street. Since the agency’s findings suggest the material has been confined to the site, Konsella said the DEC does not believe homeowners living along Calumet Avenue or other nearby roads have reason to be concerned. He added that groundwater samples taken at five wells placed on the 20-acre site did not indicate that the material had infiltrated the groundwater either.
“There was nothing of significance in any of the groundwater samples that were taken,” Konsella said.
Exposure to high levels of lead can cause severe health problems for adults and is believed to be detrimental to the mental development of children.
Paul Dickey from the Niagara County Health Department said it appears, based on the research findings to date, that the primary concern with the high concentration of lead at this particular site would be human contact by individuals who wander into the area. He noted that the DEC has taken steps to alleviate that concern by fencing off the area and posting warning signs to pedestrians.
“Right now, I don’t believe there’s any human exposure to the material,” he said.
Konsella believes the new cleanup proposal represents the best way to reclaim the property for some future use. By doing the more extensive cleanup, he said the community would be able to one day re-use the site for residential or recreational purposes.“The possibilities are all out there,” Konsella said. “We think that this proposed amended remedy suits the needs of the community in the best fashion and we’re happy it’s going that way, quite frankly.”
James Pitts, CEO of J.W. PItts Planning and Development LLC, one of the consultants working on an ongoing planning project for the Highland Avenue area, agreed.
“You found something that’s harmful to the community that’s being removed,” Pitts said. “That’s the important thing. It is being removed.”
While officials said there’s no doubt the material should be removed, paying for it remains a question. The original plan had a price tag of about $3 million. The amended proposal is expected to cost more than $12 million.
Konsella said the DEC has identified a party it believes contributed to the deposit of the questionable fill materials on-site and the agency’s attorney is working with that party in an effort to compel a contribution to the clean-up effort. Failing that, Konsella said there is a chance the state could secure Superfund dollars for the project, although he admitted that New York’s strained financial situation could present delays on that front.
Under state regulations, the DEC is required to solicit public comments on proposed changes to previously issued cleanup plans. All comments solicited during Monday’s meeting will be considered as the cleanup plan is amended and finalized. The deadline for filing comments with the DEC is May 20.
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