Army Corps opposition to civic panel rebuked

Updated: 07/04/08 6:39 AM

The federal agency responsible for cleaning up radiological and chemical contamination in Lewiston and Porter has announced it has dropped plans to form a new advisory board for the site.

The Army Corps of Engineers had announced in late January it was beginning the process of restructuring the vehicle for public input for the investigation and cleanup of the former Lake Ontario Ordnance Works, a World War II-era weapons production and waste storage area.

But after soliciting comments on the proposal, Lt. Col. John S. Hurley, commander of the corps’ Buffalo district, said in a statement he did not find “sufficient community interest” to move ahead with forming an “official” Restoration Advisory Board.

The existing Restoration Advisory Board — the status of which has been questioned by corps officials who recently began classifying it as a “community group” — has been engaged in a dispute with the federal agency over access to information related to the ongoing environmental investigation.

The state attorney general’s office, which at the end of March issued a stinging rebuke of the Army Corps’ actions, again had strong words for federal regulators on Thursday.

“We are troubled by the Army Corps’ ongoing attempts to silence the community and are considering appropriate next steps,” spokesman John Milgrim said in a statement.

In March, Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo’s office called the federal agency’s move to establish a new advisory panel “illegal and misguided.”

Advisory board members include current and former industry professionals as well as area college professors, and the panel took its current form after a restructuring in late 2002.

Corps officials’ recent plans called for forming a new group structured like the one disbanded six years ago after community members criticized it as ineffective.

The former ordnance works site includes a nuclear waste storage cell, known as the Niagara Falls Storage Site, as well as areas contaminated by federal weapons production.

Because of the tenuous relationship between themselves and the Army Corps, advisory board members want a facilitator appointed to help mediate the interactions between the public and the agency.

Joseph A. Gardella Jr., a University at Buffalo chemistry professor who heads the advisory board, told The Buffalo News he is optimistic following the Army Corps’ announcement.

Gardella said he’s been told that Hurley, who will soon be moving out of his post in Buffalo, has recommended to the new commander that the agency pursue a facilitator to help.