The Environmental Protection Agency outlined its plans to clean up a heavily polluted creek at a public meeting in Lockport on Tuesday. But some residents in the western New York community are concerned that the plans won’t happen fast enough, with an official decision not scheduled until the end of September.
Eighteenmile Creek is a 15-mile waterway that runs into Lake Ontario, and has been designated an area of concern by the agency because of its history as an industrial discharge outlet. Residents have been urging the EPA to come up with a rapid cleanup plan to deal with PCBs, lead, mercury and other contamination.EPA officials outlined details of a three-phase plan that includes permanently relocating five residents, demolishing their homes, and excavating the creek.
James Stiles and his family live on Water Street and are among five families who expect to be relocated under the EPA’s plans. He says he hasn’t been told when the move would happen or how much the EPA would pay for his home.
“It’s not really a dollar amount, it’s a location and being comfortable," Stiles said. "I mean where I was wasn’t a mansion or anything, but it was a nice quiet street with a nice little creek behind there. Sixty years of pollution and now were just in a bad situation, a bad spot. They said there is a plan. They’re not just going to write us a check and walk away, so they’re going to try to find something within our means, I believe, and make sure that we're going to be able to sustain a good living wherever we're at.”
The plan would also see the affected homes demolished. The EPA’s Mike Basile says there’s already been some remediation with six inches of clean top soil dumped onto contaminated ground at the site.
“We’re proposing to spend about $875,000 to demolish the former Flintkote site on Mill Street, and we would then be able to test underneath the concrete flooring of the building to determine if in fact there is any contamination under the flooring of the building,” Basile said.
Basile says if the plans are approved, the EPA would hire an agency to help residents find a new home and get resettled. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is one possibility.
“So, probably sometime in early 2014 hopefully we’ll have an agency on board that will begin to communicate and dialog with these five families,” Basile said.
James Stiles is pleased with the EPA’s cleanup plan and relocation, but he says as long as they stay living near the creek his family worries about the health of his three-year-old son.
“Right now his play space is confined to the house, and it drives us crazy," Stiles said. "But we love him and we’re just hoping for the best, as long as he’s healthy, we’re all healthy. Get us out of there, and put us where we need to be and I will be happy and content."
Other residents in the community had similar concerns.
"I just wish that is could move faster, but I understand the industrial northeast corridor in the United States. There was a lot of manufacturing everywhere and there is lot and lots of problems, Love Canal, etcetera,” Lockport resident Pat Schrader said.
He says he’s worried that relocated residents might suffer from health issues in the future. He’s also hoping for a commitment from the EPA to pay related medical expenses. During the meeting many other residents who live on streets surrounding the creek expressed concern about their property also being contaminated.
Mike Basile of the EPA says they’re continuing to weigh the risks to the community.
“We’re going to undertake a very structured sampling plan and it’s going to be based on what’s nearby, the topography, and geography of the area, and as we embark and go upriver we will be looking at a variety of different red flags. If it’s bad news then we will probably come up with a plan on how to remediate,” Basile said.
The EPA is still taking public comments until August 26 before signing off on the final plan.