LOCKPORT – U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer threw his weight behind the effort to help homeowners on Lockport’s Water Street, releasing a letter Tuesday to the Environmental Protection Agency urging the move.
Michael Basile, the EPA’s local spokesman, said a remedial action plan that may include relocating the six families on the street will be released in about three weeks.
“The relocation of those residents is a possibility,” he said Tuesday.
“I’ve always thought in the back of my mind that might be a viable option,” Mayor Michael W. Tucker said. “It would be up to the residents over there as to whether they want to take part.”
Basile said the EPA also is considering a soil barrier to protect the homes and the backyards from flooding from Eighteen Mile Creek. The homes back up to a section of the creek that borders the old Flintkote building materials plant, abandoned since a fire more than 40 years ago.
It’s a hazardous waste site, now owned by Niagara County because of a tax foreclosure, which is heavily laden with cancer-causing PCBs and toxic heavy metals.
“By purchasing the homes along the creek at a fair price and allowing the residents to relocate, the EPA can ensure the public’s health and safety are protected while permanent cleanup options are evaluated,” Schumer wrote to acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe. “In this case, the prudent and safer course is also the less expensive course of action.”
The soil barrier would cost an estimated $1.2 million, and neighborhood residents who spoke to The Buffalo News last week said the next creek overflow would merely contaminate their yards again while washing away the expensive fill.
The problem was especially severe during flash floods caused by five inches of rain June 28 in Lockport. It filled the basements of hundreds of Lockport homes, including those on Water Street.
City figures show the total assessed value of the six homes is $141,500.
The assessments were drastically reduced two years ago after a protest by neighborhood activist Shirley Nicholas, who said their proximity to Flintkote, and warning letters the homeowners had received about disclosure of the toxic trouble to would-be buyers, ruined the homes’ market value.
“They can’t stay there. It’s terrible,” Nicholas said Tuesday. “They aren’t asking for an awful lot.”
Basile said if the EPA decides to relocate the residents, it will consider the assessed values and also have the homes appraised.
The agency would actively work to find another place for the displaced residents to live, rather than giving them a check and sending them out onto the housing market. “We don’t work that way,” Basile said.
He said the proposed remedial action plan for the city sector of Eighteen Mile Creek is to be posted online and placed in the Lockport Public Library. There would be a 30-day public comment period, which would include a public meeting at the 4-H Training Center at the Niagara County Fairgrounds.
This would be the third EPA buyout of homeowners in Niagara County annals. The others were in Niagara Falls, at Love Canal in the late 1970s and at the Forest Glen trailer park from 1990 to 1992.
The EPA also bought out homes near the Diaz Chemical plant in Holley, Orleans County, in 2002.