Officials want landfill cleaned up, not capped

By Daniel Pye

The Tonawanda News

September 25, 2008 12:11 am

The Army Corps of Engineers is aiming to cap the radioactive materials in the Seaway Landfill, but town leaders want the area excavated.

The corps held a public comment presentation Wednesday night to inform the public of its intentions and solicit resident opinions. To start, Lt. Colonel Daniel Snead gave a brief history of the site. The landfill was operated from 1930 to 1993 and accepted municipal, commercial, construction and industrial wastes. During the 1940s, the Linde Air Products Division of Union Carbide processed uranium ores under contract to the Manhattan Engineer District. Hazardous materials from those processes were transported from the Linde site to the former Haist Property, leased at the time by the federal government.

In the mid-1970s, Ashland Oil constructed oil tanks on that property and moved materials containing radioactive residues including radium, thorium, uranium and uranium byproducts to the Seaway landfill. At the landfill, those materials were used as cover or grading material. The site was operated as a landfill by Browning-Ferris Industries through 1993, after which most of the landfill was capped by BFI.

Environmental Engineer Janna Hummel, project manager for Seaway, said the corps seriously considered three options for the site after studies revealed higher than normal levels of radiation.

Radioactive materials exist on both sides of a protective wall that runs the border of the landfill and keeps material from contaminating surrounding areas and groundwater, although the majority is contained inside. Under the first alternative, all radioactive materials would be excavated and relocated for an estimated cost of $130 million. The second plan would remove some of the material and cap the land where the radioactive materials were under more than 10 feet of landfill material. That plan would cost $80 million.

The final plan, which the corps lists as its preferred alternative, would remove only the material located outside the protective barrier and cap the rest of the site for $30 million. The cost of relocating the material, which has to be shipped to isolated areas in the western U.S., is one of nine factors taken into consideration when the corps recommended its plan, Hummel said. That didn’t sit well with Town Supervisor Anthony Caruana, who spoke during the comment period and said the town’s position is the same as it has always been, that all radioactive material be removed to ensure the safety, health and welfare of residents. Just because the capping alternative is the most cost effective doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for town residents, he said.

“Budgetary concerns should not be put before public health concerns,” Caruana said. Planning Board Chairman Kenneth Swanekamp said since the nearby Rattlesnake Creek area was excavated, the land has been in high demand and light industrial developments like the Riverview Commerce Park have begun to show interest in the riverfront area. His concern is knowledge that radioactive material is still in the area could hinder the growth of business, rendering that area of the town unusable.

“The ability of that area of the town to grow as our master plan calls for is going to be predicated on public perception,” Swanekamp said.

The corps has promised to address all the comments in its final Record of Decision for the site, expected to be issued in October 2009. The public comment period continues until Oct. 27. Contact reporter Daniel Pye at 693-1000, ext. 158.

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COURTESY OF THE ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS MESSY CLEANUP: The Seaway Landfill site, located near the intersection of I-190 and River Road in the Town of Tonawanda, is under review by the Army Corps of Engineers for its high radiation levels. Town leaders want the radioactive materials excavated. The Tonawanda News