LEWISTON – With a crowd of more than 300 roaring with every rhetorical thrust, residents of the Lewiston-Porter area held nothing back Wednesday night as they let a state siting board hear their bitter opposition to expansion of the CWM Chemical Services hazardous waste landfill.
During an evening session of nearly two hours before intermission was called by moderator Daniel O’Connell, an administrative law judge for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, not a single positive word was uttered about CWM’s application to dig a new 43.5-acre landfill that might keep the company in business for decades.
“In the words of Ronald Reagan, Mr. O’Connell, tear down CWM!” said Carmela Alati of Lewiston, wrapping up the first segment.
During the 4½-hour afternoon session, 46 speakers took the microphone. About 30 signed up for the evening meeting.
DEC spokesman Peter Constantakes said the eight-member board, whose job is to determine whether CWM receives its permit, won’t do anything until after the Sept. 5 deadline for written comments to be received.
Its members, five state officials and three local residents, clustered in the front rows of the right-hand seating section of the Lewiston-Porter High School auditorium, making notes and listening to the speakers bash CWM.
CWM spokeswoman Lori Caso said most of the company’s supporters were writing letters and postcards to the board.
“They’ll be given equal weight,” she said, “We’re confident that if (board members) look at their criteria, they’ll see there is a need for this landfill.”
Jeff Brylski, president of Teamsters Local 449 at CWM, said after intermission that the facility is clearly needed, otherwise the company “wouldn’t be spending $55 million on a project without any tax breaks or subsidies.”
He said, “We don’t need to stop operations at a safe, established business like CWM Chemical Services to serve the agenda of a few individuals.”
“Is one company so powerful that thousands of voices cannot be heard?” asked Eva Nicklas of the Lewiston Council on the Arts.
“We the people are on the right side,” former Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte declared. “We will not be the toxic waste capital of the nation.”
“Some people said earlier today, ‘It’s already a contaminated area. Why not let it enlarge?’ ” Lewiston Supervisor Dennis J. Brochey Sr. said. “Gentlemen, if you cut your finger, do you make it bigger? No. You mend it.”
The crowd gave Brochey a long ovation when he said, “We’re tired of New York State, the DEC and CWM. Give us back our town and our county.”
The landfill actually is located on Balmer Road in Porter, but Porter officials are prohibited from speaking out on the issue because of a 2001 host community agreement in which they agreed to keep silent in exchange for a CWM payment of $3 for each ton of waste dumped in the new landfill.
CWM also pays the towns of Lewiston and Porter and three local school districts shares of a 6 percent gross receipts tax each year. That revenue fell 54 percent from 2012 to 2013. Despite the money, Lew-Port School Board President Jody Riordan spoke out against the expansion. She said the district was no longer budgeting for that income.
She blamed CWM’s presence for reducing the district’s population. Riordan said that in 1977, the year before CWM opened, Lew-Port graduated 428 seniors. This year’s incoming kindergarten class numbers 116.
“The earth is poisoned at CWM,” Nicklas said, “and we worry about the air we breathe and the water we drink. We dread the huge trucks that thunder by on our roads. … The damage has been done, but please stop degrading the land.”
Caso said she made the comment about the land already being contaminated but said she was being quoted out of context.
She said in an interview, “It was chosen because the clay makes it conducive to landfills and it’s on historically contaminated land, the LOOW site.” Byproducts of the World War II atomic bomb project are buried in the Lake Ontario Ordnanace Works.
Gary A. Abraham, an Allegany environmental attorney retained by Niagara County and the Town of Lewiston, said the presence of the CWM toxins makes it hard for the Army Corps of Engineers to make a cleanup plan for the “legacy waste” at LOOW, while monitoring of groundwater for leaks from the new landfill would be compromised because of the contamination already there.
Several speakers talked about health problems. Nadine Williams, of Pletcher Road, Lewiston, said she has been diagnosed with seven autoimmune disorders in 20 years and has three children in various stages of possible autism after several miscarriages.
She spoke of “the lovely stench that comes up in the evening. I wonder what it is. I’ll ask myself between the doctor appointments and wondering what happens to my children.”
Caso said Williams must have been referring to the Modern Disposal garbage landfill in Lewiston. “We don’t smell,” she asserted.
County Legislator Clyde L. Burmaster of Ransomville, who said he is “a five-time prostate and bladder cancer survivor,” warned that CWM could be vulnerable to a terrorist attack, producing a catastrophic leak, and sits on an earthquake fault.