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Source: The Buffalo News

CWM officials to answer questions

Public meeting Thursday to focus on renewal of hazardous waste landfill’s operating permit


Posted: January 11, 2010
Originally Published: January 10, 2010

Officials at the Northeast’s only commercial hazardous waste landfill have planned a public meeting this week to talk about their upcoming request for a renewed operating permit from the state.

But observers say the review of CWM Chemical Services’ application to environmental regulators, in the end, will amount to a mere formality.

In fact, both the company and the Department of Environmental Conservation — the state agency whose mission is to “conserve, improve and protect” the environment of New York State — say the company has never had a permit request denied for its Balmer Road facility.

At the same time, fines totaling $902,000 have been levied by the department since 1990 for permit violations, according to figures provided by the agency.

Porter resident Peter A. Diachun, who served on the siting board that reviewed the application for CWM’s current landfill permit, said politics ultimately rule the day.

“It doesn’t matter how bad things are,” Diachun said, “they’re not going to be allowed to shut them down.”

The information session, which CWM said will be informal, is scheduled for 6 p. m. Thursday in Porter Town Hall, 3265 Creek Road. Company staffers will be on hand to answer questions from residents, and individuals will be able to submit written comments on the proposal.

There will be no podium or speaking time for verbal comments, like there would be at a public hearing.

CWM’s request that will be the topic of discussion is separate from its still-pending application to build a new landfill, which the company filed in 2003.

Its operating permit is one of two permits — the other being a state pollutant discharge elimination system permit — the company has from the state.

CWM spokeswoman Lori Caso said the company does not plan to seek changes to the maximum amount of waste the facility can bring in annually or the mandatory route for trucks coming to deposit toxic waste at the site as part of the renewed permit.

Under the current permit, which expires Aug. 5, the company can bring in 425,000 tons of waste a year.

Here’s how the company says it will propose to change its permit, ways that are generally seen as fairly benign:

• Install steel containment pans in the facility’s PCB warehouse to catch leaks from drums storing liquid waste. At present, drums are allowed to be stored on a coated concrete floor, and the company said leaks “rarely” occur.

• Add a 30,000-gallon tank to the facility’s aqueous waste treatment system, which handles liquid waste. The move would allow for additional capacity and “flexibility to improve treatment efficiency,” Caso said. The company also would update a chart listing inspection requirements for all on-site tanks.

• Use thinner-wall containers to hold landfill debris. Advances in the technology have been made to allow for the change, according to the company.

• Expand the types of containers that can be stored in areas of the site designated for bulk container storage. There are 33 areas permitted for this use on the site, about half of which are used for bulk storage, Caso said.

• Delete from the permit portions related to a process for shredding empty drums, the machinery for which the company said it stopped using in 1999.

• An update of contact information in the facility’s emergency plan.

CWM’s facility sits on 710 acres on the south side of Balmer Road, just west of Porter Center Road. About 80 acres on the site consist of closed landfills. The site’s active landfill, known as Residuals Management Unit-1, is 47 acres in size.

The company’s plans for a new, 50-acre landfill, to be called RMU-2, have been delayed because regulators have yet to complete a set of guidelines for the treatment and disposal of toxic waste, as directed by the State Legislature in 1987.

State regulators say they have ongoing dialogues with all permit applicants, sometimes even before applications are formally submitted. That process typically helps an applicant avoid running into major difficulties.

But the agency did not want to comment on the permit application — for which there is no fee charged — until it is formally filed, said spokeswoman Maureen Wren.

As part of the review process, the agency accepts input from the agency monitors who work at the site and considers violations that have occurred, Wren said in an e-mail.

“A record of compliance review evaluates past violations— their severity, frequency,” Wren wrote, “as well as involves the direct experiences of the technical staff who are familiar with the facility’s operations and compliance history.”

In one of the more high-profile incidents, CWM violated its storm water discharge permit in the fall of 2007, when an acrid, foamy discharge was found in the Niagara River near the company’s outfall pipeline, regulators said then.

The company, at the time, also said the foam was “not a threat to public health or the environment,” while regulators said the condition was caused by air bubbles.

The company also is asking the state to modify its discharge permit, and the issue will be the subject of a public hearing in Lewiston-Porter High School on Feb. 22.

CWM hopes to formally file its sitewide operating permit renewal application by Feb. 5.

Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a New York and Connecticut-based environmental advocacy group, issued a statement urging regulators to carefully consider CWM’s application.

“This should not be an automatic approval,” said Brian P. Smith, the group’s program director for Western New York. “Obviously, there is a tremendous amount of room for improvement at CWM, since they have been fined more than $900,000 by the DEC since 1990.”