LEWISTON - Government agencies may decide in the next few years what should be done with the toxic and radioactive material left over from World War II bomb-making activities at the former Lake Ontario Ordnance Works.
Then it will be up to Congress and the president to appropriate the huge amount of money necessary for any cleanup, a professional facilitator said Monday.
But Douglas J. Sarno of the Forum Facilitation Group said that the next technical memorandum that will help in reaching a decision on permanent disposal of the bomb residue already is slipping behind schedule and that the end of the cleanup effort is nowhere in sight.
The next in a series of memorandums will deal with "relative and appropriate requirements" for any disposal program. "That memorandum is being reviewed by lawyers in Washington for the Army Corps of Engineers, and it may not come out in November, as scheduled. It may slip even later," Sarno told the executive committee of the Community Action Council.
The council is an independent group interested in what is going to be done with the hazardous material that has been stored "temporarily" at the former explosives plant for the last 70 years or so.
Joseph A. Gardella Jr., a University at Buffalo professor who is co-chairman of the executive committee, said, "The 'relative and appropriate requirements' are dense topics and are very confusing to the public. They are among the most challenging and most confusing matters that have to be understood. This is a pretty complicated issue."
Gardella added that experts in the Corps of Engineers and the federal Environmental Protection Agency may disagree about some of the regulations and requirements.
Most who have been studying these issues agree that the corps will make the final recommendation on what action should be taken, but some believe that the EPA also will have to sign off on it.
Sarno added that the corps and the EPA may disagree even on which sections of law would apply to remediation of the old ordnance works, and the decision on whether to remove the material will be made at the highest levels in Washington, not in the Buffalo area.
"Any remedy is going to cost money, perhaps a great deal of money," Sarno said. "And it is money that the corps of Engineers does not have."
With more memorandums and technical discussion yet to come, "the next Congress, or the one after that, may make the decision on funding. I don't believe it will be this next Congress," Sarno said. That would put the funding decision off for at least four years, with no assurance of how soon after that any work on remediation actually could begin.
Members of the executive committee agreed that their next challenge is to rally the Western New York congressional delegation behind the cleanup program recommended by the corps or the EPA.
Executive committee member William L. Boeck noted that the alternatives range from leaving the hazardous material buried in its present containment structure to complete removal of every last bit of contamination for permanent disposal somewhere else, probably at a licensed disposal site in another state.