LOCKPORT – By the dozens, Lockport’s Lowertown residents told the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday how their lives were changed by contamination along Eighteen Mile Creek.
A Water Street man whose backyard gets inundated by contaminated creek water “eight to 10 times a year” desperately fears for the safety of his 3-year-old son.
One woman – a longtime resident of the neighborhood – described her painful and ongoing ordeal with terminal bone cancer.
A one-time employee of the former Harrison Radiator Corp. described watching vats of chemicals being dumped into sewers and a tributary leading to the creek.
All pleaded with federal officials during Wednesday’s community meeting for quick and decisive help for their proud, working-class neighborhood on the city’s north end.
“I think the people of Lowertown have waited long enough,” said Mike Pillot, a retired Lockport city policeman who grew up in the neighborhood and said he once saw “all the stuff get dumped.”
“The hell with the cost. We’ve got to put people’s lives first.”
“I think Lockport is as bad, or worse, than Love Canal ever was. Help these people down there,” he added.
That’s just what the EPA is in Lockport to do, according to Thomas Taccone, the remedial project manager who traveled to the Lock City Wednesday from New York City.
“We know there is some concern this isn’t going to be done right away,” he said. “That is not the case.”
It’s why the EPA has targeted nine properties along Water Street – five of which are occupied – for work as soon as next month because of the exigency of the situation and its potential deleterious impact on human health.
There, the agency will get to work with an interim plan to cap the soils in the yards of the property found to be contaminated with everything from heavy metals to PCBs. Capping, it’s thought, will mitigate residents’ exposure to the contaminants.
From there, a long-term remediation plan will be designed and implemented.
Some, like James Stiles of 143 Water St., want the federal government to relocate affected residents like himself.
“Move ‘em,” shouted one resident from the gallery.
Shouted another: “Get them out of there.”
The Eighteen Mile Creek corridor was added to the federal Superfund list – as one of the nation’s most contaminated areas – only last year.
The EPA is soliciting information from residents or any citizen about contamination along Eighteen Mile Creek caused by Flintkote, the former White Transportation, Upson, United Paperboard and other companies. “We’re trying to piece together what happened in Lockport,” said Taccone.
The Water Street remediation is the first step in a three-part plan by the EPA to clean up Eighteen Mile Creek.
The second phase will involve the corridor from Upson Park north to Harwood Street, followed by the rest of the city up to the shore of Lake Ontario at Olcott.
EPA officials briefed the Lockport Common Council on their plans in the afternoon.
Shirley Nichols – a neighborhood activist who lives on Mill Street across from the contaminated and vacant, Flintkote plant – had EPA officials sampling soil earlier Wednesday outside her home.
She made a formal request for a community legal adviser from the EPA to help affected residents.
Carol Kelley, the Lowertown native now suffering from Stage IV bone cancer, implored the 75 people at the meeting, along with local, state and federal officials there, to continue battling to clean up the contamination and help residents.
“We may not have enough time for us, but we sure do for our children and grandchildren,” she said.