Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Planned environmental cleanup activities in lowertown apparently are on hold after the federal government shut down Tuesday.
Judith Enck, regional administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, was expected to decide on Monday whether to approve a “Record of Decision” spelling out EPA’s plan to relocate some homeowners on Water Lane and commence demolition of the crumbling Flintkote building a block away on Mill Street. Those actions were proposed by EPA to remediate a portion of the Eighteen Mile Creek hazardous waste site.
Whether Enck signed off on the proposal could not be determined, even by Mike Basile, EPA’s community involvement coordinator. All over the country, agency employees had been instructed on Monday to get ready for the shutdown. Reached by phone Tuesday morning, while he was in his Buffalo office closing it up, Basile said he couldn’t get an answer as to whether the Eighteen Mile Creek ROD was or wasn’t signed.
“I don’t know. I can’t find out because it’s so chaotic today,” he said.
Enck’s signing of the ROD is necessary for remediation activities to go forward. Until the decision is approved, EPA staff can’t start talks with third-party real estate specialists who’ll be hired to negotiate buyouts with five Water Lane property owners and help them acquire new housing. They also can’t start drafting work plans for demolition of the Flintkote building, which while it stands is preventing testing to determine the extent of PCB, lead and other contamination beneath it.
Then again, even if Enck did sign the Eighteen MileCreek ROD on Monday, remediation-related activities would not get under way because EPA staff are not working during the shutdown. The agency’s functions are deemed “non-essential” by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.
Since mid-September, an EPA contractor has been installing temporary soil covers on eight contaminated parcels along Water Lane, including two owned by the City of Lockport. Capping was preceded by institution of flood control measures, including clearing of the William Street culvert and removal of downed trees in the creek, which backs the affected Water Lane properties.
Late last week, EPA on-scene coordinator Terry Kish said temporary capping work should be finished around Oct. 11. The government shutdown should not force a change in the timetable, since the work is being done by private sector rather than government employees, Kish said.
Planned actions to secure demolition of the partly collapsed industrial boiler house at 89 Mill St., across Mill from the Flintkote parcel but not included in the Eighteen Mile Creek Corridor Superfund site, are on hold due to the shutdown.
EPA had planned to start legal proceedings this month to get control of the property from Liberty Plant Maintenance, a Texas-based business whose owner abandoned the Mill Street property after run-ins with state officials over asbestos contamination. Demolition is being pursued as an asbestos removal action. A demolition contractor was already hired by EPA, and the agency tentatively planned to write a work plan this month while a court order was obtained, Kish said.
If and when demolition is undertaken, EPA will try to collect some or all of the cost from Liberty Maintenance. Kish suggested the tab could run as high as $1 million, depending on what the contractor finds in the boiler house basement. Accessways are filled in with debris presently, he said.
The Lockport City Treasurer’s office passed on seizing 89 Mill St. for unpaid property taxes this year. Dating to 2011, Liberty Maintenance’s city and school tax tab is $2,816.58. The treasurer’s office has a longstanding policy of not going after property that’s known or believed to be environmentally contaminated.
In the case of 89 Mill, Treasurer Michael White said last week, the city is in talks with EPA to try getting the property included in a later phase of Eighteen Mile Creek Corridor remediation.