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Source: The Buffalo News

Will slim-down at CWM add strength?

‘Cover modification’would allow hazardous waste landfillto add more waste

BY AARON BESECKER
NEWS NIAGARA BUREAU

Posted: January 19, 2009
Originally Published: January 18, 2009

State regulators may be skirting environmental law as they consider a plan that would add space to the Northeast’s only hazardous waste landfill, some critics of the proposal say.

CWM Chemical Services wants to create a thinner cap for its Town of Porter landfill, one that will allow it to pile an extra 2 1/2 feet of waste onto the open portions of its 47-acre dumping ground and stay below its maximum height allowance.

The company has told state regulators the new cap is more technologically advanced, and it made the request while it continues to await word on a separate proposal to build a new landfill.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has delayed a ruling on the new landfill for several years because by law it must have a statewide hazardous waste disposal plan in place first.

As the state continues work on the disposal plan, the redesigned CWM waste cap would allow the company to squeeze another year of life into its active dump area.

“The proposed interim expansion is obviously CWM’s attempt to buy more time to permit a much larger hazardous waste landfill,” said April Fideli, president of the Porter-based Residents for Responsible Government. “The additional 160,000 tons of waste [the cap would allow for] is clearly an expansion. . . . The DEC’s attempt to let CWM circumvent [state] law is shameful.”

A September decision issued by the DEC said CWM’s proposal — to alter the design of a layered cap meant to keep moisture away from the buried waste — would not have “a significant effect on the environment.”

That agency ruling allowed the company to avoid additional scrutiny of the cap change request — including a lengthy review process that, as of today, has no clear start date because the state has yet to complete a plan to manage hazardous waste facilities.

In e-mails exchanged with a reporter, a department spokeswoman agreed it was fair to say that the agency’s action allowed CWM’s proposal to avoid additional review protocols.

Apparent confusion over whether this plan is technically an “expansion” extended into messages from company officials.

In an opinion piece recently published in The Buffalo News, CWM District Manager Michael Mahar argued that the company’s proposal is not actually an expansion.

Rather, it is a “newly engineered capping mechanism that is technically and environmentally superior . . .,” Mahar wrote.

Mahar’s opinion piece did not mention that the company’s proposal would give it more space to bury hazardous waste.

Regulators have invited the public to comment on the proposal at public hearings, which are being held at regulators’ discretion, at 4 and 7 p. m. Wednesday at Lewiston-Porter High School. Input on CWM’s proposal will be accepted even though the agency has already made a tentative

determination to issue the permit for the thinner cap.

State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, has been among the critics who have questioned state regulators’ approach to dealing with the landfill’s future.

Maziarz said he was “a little surprised” at the agency’s ruling that the proposed change to CWM’s landfill cap would not have a significant effect on the environment.

“I think it points to the fact that the DEC is fast-tracking the approval process for CWM’s expansion,” Maziarz said.

He also said he believes many of the agency’s latest actions, including its draft plan to manage hazardous waste across the state, have worked against this area.

“[DEC Commissioner Alexander] ‘Pete’ Grannis is of the mind-set that there’s only one place for hazardous waste in New York State,” Maziarz said, “and that’s Niagara County.”

Lori Severino, an agency spokeswoman, downplayed Maziarz’s comments by calling them a “personal attack” on Grannis. She also referred to CWM’s plan as a “cover modification” and “has nothing to do with the potential expansion of CWM,” meaning the separate new landfill application.

She denied the agency was “fast-tracking” the company’s proposal.

Siting process

In 2005, a measure was signed into law that required regulators to complete a written plan that will guide the development of new hazardous waste facilities and how toxic waste is treated and disposed of in New York before reviewing applications for new capacity.

To be known as the “Hazardous Waste Facility Siting Plan,” the document was called for by a 1987 law, with the most recent draft released in July.

Under the company’s proposed design change, a 2-foot layer of natural clay will be replaced by a thinner layer of synthetic clay. Also, a layer of soil just below the surface will be thinned.

CWM officials said the synthetic clay represents “the latest technology,” which is “technically equivalent or superior to compacted clay.”

The synthetic clay is also much simpler to install, the company has said.

The initial cover design, which was approved by the state in 1993, is already being used on about 18 acres of closed landfill, according to a recent company publication.

A consulting firm hired by CWM told state regulators the synthetic clay shows “superior performance” in terms of responding to the freeze-thaw cycle and is about 100 times less permeable than natural clay.

Robert M. Koerner, director of the Geosynthetic Institute at Drexel University, said he advocates removing compacted, natural clay liners from all landfills because they don’t respond well when waste beneath the cap settles.

The DEC argues that the landfill cap proposal will not have a significant effect on the environment because it will provide more effective protection, as well as by eliminating the need for trucks to haul in the natural clay.

The agency said the design has been implemented at some solid waste landfills in the state, but it could not say whether the design is used at hazardous waste landfills elsewhere in the United States.

Expansion concerns

Several local, state and national groups have told state regulators they oppose the addition of more landfill capacity at the Niagara County site.

Those groups include the Albany- based Environmental Advocates of New York; Citizens Campaign for the Environment, which has offices across the state and in Connecticut; Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper; and the Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte, D-Lewiston, who sponsored the 2005 amendment to the siting law as Maziarz did in the Senate, also has called on the DEC to take another look at the cap issue.

The Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club points to the agency’s assertion that the state needs no further capacity for hazardous waste.

“Given the long history of permit violations evidenced by CWM’s fines, and given what appears to be a violation of state siting law,” a statement from the organization reads, “we will urge the DEC to reconsider its completeness determination for this application.”

According to an e-mail from Brian Smith, Western New York program director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment, “The CWM proposal would increase dangerous hazardous waste going to a landfill operating in an already unduly burdened community."

To view regulators’ documents on the issue, go online to www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/49051.html.