LOOW: Taking on the Army Corps

January 18, 2009 10:12 am

— YOUNGSTOWN — Officials from all levels of local government formed a bipartisan front Saturday morning to push the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to accept recommendations from a Restoration Advisory Board created to address residual problems at the former Lake Ontario Ordinance Works site in Lewiston.

Although the meeting served as a way to present grievances to the Army Corps, representatives from the organization did not attend. In a letter dated Jan. 14, Lt. Col. Daniel Snead of the Corps told Youngstown Mayor Neil Riordan that Saturday’s meeting conflicted with a “prior engagement” and suggested a meeting be scheduled for March or April instead.

Officials on hand Saturday, ranging from those with school boards and town boards to state politicians, said the Army Corps’ absence sent a message that the Corps was not interested in earnestly investigating the World War II-era Manhattan Project waste at the LOOW site.

“Well, let me send a message loudly and clearly to the Corps,” Niagara County Legislator Clyde Burmaster said. “This is not your government. This is the people’s government. ... To not include the public in the process is unforgivable and un-American.”

RAB was formed years ago by the Army Corps to serve as a liaison between the army and the community. But last year, the Army Corps denounced RAB’s legality, saying it doesn’t qualify as a citizen advisory group because it acts as an advocacy group.

Clearly, public officials and many residents disagree. Representatives from Youngstown, the Town of Lewiston, Niagara Falls, the Town of Wilson, Cambria, Wheatfield, Somerset and others all voiced support for RAB’s efforts, saying RAB was chosen to represent their communities and the Army Corps should acknowledge that. Representatives from the state Attorney General’s office sat in but only to “collect information” to report to the attorney general.

While some, like Burmaster, took a tough approach in slamming the Corps for an apparent lack of transparency, Lewiston-Porter Board of Education President Robert Weller suggested a friendlier approach, adding, “Whatever we’ve been doing in the past however many years hasn’t been working.”

Lewiston Supervisor Fred Newlin suggested restoration of the LOOW site could somehow fit into Barack Obama’s stimulus plans, while state Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, suggested getting some assistance from the senator who will replace Hillary Clinton.

“It’s another opportunity if this United States senator, like all elected officials should, cares about the state of New York. We can get in front of that person on this issue and make this their signature issue,” Maziarz said.

The group of government representatives and around 30 community members agreed, suggesting a federal push be included as a part of a resolution drafted in support of RAB.

A committee was formed Saturday to draft a proposal that will be signed by all stakeholders in Niagara County. The committee consisted of Niagara County Legislature Chairman William Ross, Cambria Supervisor Wright Ellis, Burmaster, Dan Stapleton from the Niagara County Health Department and resident Wendy Swearanger.

The Army Corps' rejection of RAB came just months before issuing findings of a years-long investigation into the 191-acre property, which was once a TNT manufacturing plant for the nation’s armed forces during and after World War II. The Remedial Investigation Report determined there are no imminent health risks at the site. RAB raised concerns about the stability of the site and called for more testing.

Sen. Charles Schumer and state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo already have issued past statements chiding the Army Corps for ignoring RAB.

Contact reporter Caitlin Murray at 282-2311, ext. 2251.

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