The Environmental Protection Agency is considering a plan to relocate residents of about a half-dozen contaminated homes in Lockport and, given the circumstances and the alternatives, it’s an idea with real merit.
The homes were contaminated last month after five inches of rain pushed the toxic stew of Eighteenmile Creek over its banks and into backyards and basements along Water Street. Flooding is an annual event, residents say, and the contamination is not just in the water. In addition to whatever contamination flooded basements may now contain, the land is also poisoned.
Kristina Morrison bought her house in 2001. A year later, she received a letter warning her that the ground around her house was toxic. She was told not to grow a garden there or even walk barefoot.
In response to last month’s flooding the EPA had proposed capping the contaminated yards with clean fill to serve as a temporary fix. But the project, costing an estimated $1.2 million, would be undone at the next flood, which, given the history, seems likely no later than next summer.
Homes on the street are worth around $40,000. As Shirley Nichols, a neighborhood activist, noted, if the government were generous and bought everyone out at $50,000, the cost would be only $250,000, about a fifth the cost of capping.
Of course, that still leaves the cost of a potential cleanup, but the immediate crisis would be solved expeditiously and, given the community health threat, that has to be the primary concern.
In addition, even if the EPA were to cap the lawns, what would be done with the houses flooded by contaminated water? Morrison noted that while the creek water came within several yards of her home, sewer water rushed down the street from the other direction when pressure blew the caps off the mains in the street.
“The whole crawl space under the house flooded,” she said. “My whole foundation is completely cracked. The whole yard is completely contaminated.”
Said she: “We have no other choice; we have nowhere to go.”
And that’s the problem. There appears to be no other practical choice but to get these unfortunate people out of their homes. It is wise for the EPA to consider a variety of options, but unless it can come up with one that better deals with the multiple challenges wrought by this storm – and the storms to come – the buying these residents out and allowing them to move elsewhere will be the way to go.
Sooner is better than later.