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May 12, 2017 - 5:38pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Emerald Ash Borer, DEC, environment, news.

Press release:

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Department of Agriculture and Markets (DAM) today announced that eight existing Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) Restricted Zones have been expanded and merged into a single Restricted Zone in order to strengthen the State’s efforts to slow the spread of this invasive pest. 

The new EAB Restricted Zone includes part or all of Albany, Allegany, Broome, Cattaraugus, Cayuga, Chautauqua, Chenango, Chemung, Columbia, Cortland, Delaware, Dutchess, Erie, Genesee, Greene, Livingston, Madison, Monroe, Niagara, Oneida, Onondaga, Ontario, Orange, Orleans, Oswego, Otsego, Putnam, Rensselaer, Rockland, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Sullivan, Tioga, Tompkins, Ulster, Wayne, Westchester, Wyoming, and Yates counties.

The EAB Restricted Zone prohibits the movement of EAB and potentially infested ash wood. The map is available on the DEC website http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7253.html.

“The expanded Restricted Zone for the destructive pest Emerald Ash Borer will help to slow the spread of this tree-killing beetle, protecting millions of ash trees in New York,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “DEC will continue our efforts to slow the spread of this beetle and do what we can to help communities prepare for EAB.”

“It’s critical that we continue to track the Emerald Ash Borer and adjust our efforts to combat and slow the spread of this invasive beetle that damages and kills ash trees in both our forested and urban settings,” said State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball. “By expanding the Restricted Zone, we can ensure that EAB and potentially infested ash wood does not leave the quarantine areas.”

Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis) or “EAB” is a serious invasive tree pest in the United States, killing hundreds of millions of ash trees in forests, yards, and neighborhoods. The beetles’ larvae feed in the cambium layer just below the bark, preventing the transport of water and nutrients into the crown and killing the tree. Emerging adult beetles leave distinctive D-shaped exit holes in the outer bark of the branches and the trunk. Adults are roughly 3/8 to 5/8 inch long with metallic green wing covers and a coppery red or purple abdomen. They may be present from late May through early September but are most common in June and July. Other signs of infestation include tree canopy dieback, yellowing, and browning of leaves. 

EAB was first discovered in the United States in 2002 in southeastern Michigan. It was also found in Windsor, Ontario, Canada the same year. This Asian beetle infests and kills North American ash species (Fraxinus sp.) including green, white, black and blue ash. Thus, all native ash trees are susceptible.

EAB larvae can be moved long distances in firewood, logs, branches, and nursery stock, later emerging to infest new areas. These regulated articles may not leave the Restricted Zone without a compliance agreement or limited permit from the Department of Agriculture and Markets, applicable only during the non-flight season (September 1 - April 30).

Regulated articles from outside of the Restricted Zone may travel through the Restricted Zone as long as the origin and the destination are listed on the waybill and the articles are moved without stopping, except for traffic conditions and refueling. Wood chips may not leave the Restricted Zone between April 15th and May 15th of each year when EAB is likely to emerge.

For more information about EAB or the emergency orders, please visit DEC’s website. If you see signs of EAB attack on ash trees outside of the Restrictive Zone, please report these occurrences to the DEC’s Forest Health Information Line toll-free at 1-866-640-0652.

May 1, 2017 - 12:45pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in GCEDC, environment, schools, education, business, news.

Press release:

International recording artist, environmentalist, and educator, Mr. Eco, will be visiting John Kennedy Primary School on Tuesday, May 9th at 9:30 a.m. for a special performance. Mr. Eco combines hip hop music with lyrics that inspire children to be environmentally conscientious.

The event is being sponsored by the Building Technologies Division at Siemens and hosted in conjunction with the fourth-grade innovators STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) programing at John Kennedy School and the Genesee County Economic Development Center (GCEDC).

Mr. Eco’s songs emphasize the active role we all have in creating a sustainable culture, decreasing energy usage, increasing recycling, and working to keep communities free of litter. He has performed for more than 135,000 children across the United States, Canada, Turkey, South Africa, Colombia, St. Lucia, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

“Conveying how important it is to take care of our environment to children at a young age is critically important,” said Christopher Dailey, superintendent of Batavia City School District.

“We want to ensure that our students develop environmentally friendly habits early on and we are really looking forward to having Mr. Eco teach them this in such a fun way. We are also very proud of our fourth-grade innovators program and the STEAM course work they have completed this year, so this will be a natural extension of what these students have been learning.”

Siemens’ sponsorship of the concert is in keeping with its support of student achievement, STEAM and sustainability.

“We are excited to honor the students at John Kennedy and the leadership at Batavia City School District for their outstanding accomplishments this year,” said Joseph Peters, Northeast zone manager, Siemens’ Building Technologies Division.     

“An important component of economic development is mitigating the impact of construction projects and other infrastructure work on the surrounding environment,” said Chris Suozzi, vice president of Business Development at GCEDC.

“We need to prepare the future workforce of our county and region to understand this delicate balance so that we can continue growing the economy while protecting the environment.”

For more information about Mr. Eco please visit www.mreco.org.

April 27, 2017 - 1:03pm

Most of this information is from Katherine Bunting-Howarth, New York Sea Grant associate director, Cornell University, the rest is from GLOW Solid Waste:

Twice a year New York residents can take their unused pharmaceuticals back to collection sites statewide --  "no questions asked." It's part of the National Presecription Drug Take Back Day. The first such event for 2017 is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. this Saturday, April 29.

In Genesee County, the drop-off sites set up outside (for drive-by drop-offs) for this occasion are at:

  • the Batavia Police Department parking lot, 10 W. Main St. in the City of Batavia;
  • the Pembroke Town Highway barns at the junction of routes 5 and 77, East Pembroke, the drop-off site will be manned by the Sheriff's Office
  • Le Roy PD

In addition, drop boxes are located at the NY State Police -- Batavia Barracks, 4525 W. Saile Drive, Batavia; the GC Sheriff's Office at 165 Park Road, Batavia; and the Village of Le Roy Police Department, 3 W. Main St. (The Le Roy location also accepts sharps, according to GLOW Region Solid Waste.)

Why people should properly dispose of unwanted medications -- both presription and over-the-counter -- is highlighted in the "Undo the Environmental Chemical Brew: Keep Unwanted Medications and Chemicals Out of the Great Lakes" guide developed by New York Sea Grant.

The guide is posted online at www.nyseagrant.org/unwantedmeds.

The guide written by New York Sea Grant Coastal Education Specialist Helen Domske, associate director of the Great Lakes Program at the University of Buffalo, Buffalo, includes tips on how citizens can keep unwanted pharmaceuticals and personal care products, also called PPCPs, out of local waters and out of the Great Lakes system.

"Taking unused prescription drugs to collection sites helps reduce the impact of unwanted substances on the water resource that provides drinking water to 42 million people in the United States and Canada and aquatic habitat for a host of fishes and other wildlife," Domske said.

The Undo the Chemical Brew guide lists 17 different types of PPCPs, including antibiotics, hormones, contraceptives, antidepressants, cosmetics, and vitamins, that are finding their way into the Great Lakes, the source of drinking water for 42 million people in the United States and Canada.

Research by New York Sea Grant and other science organizations has tracked the feminization of fish populations downstream from wastewater treatment plants to estrogen and its components found in prescription drugs.

"Researchers are increasingly documenting the impact of bioactive chemical substances in PPCPs throughout the aquatic food web on fishes, frogs, mussels and other freshwater organisms. We do not want people flushing unwanted and unused medicines down the toilet or drain," Domske said.

A New York Sea Grant-funded, two-year research project that began in February 2016 is examining the effectiveness of advanced water treatment options, environmental levels and potential effects of pharmaceuticals in New York waters.

The biannual National Prescription Drug Take Back Days are an initiative of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in cooperation with law enforcement agencies nationwide. Authorized collection sites are posted on the website at https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_disposal/takeback/

New York Sea Grant, a cooperative program of Cornell University and the State University of New York, is one of 33 university-based programs under the National Sea Grant Program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. New York Sea Grant has Great Lakes offices in Buffalo, Newark and Oswego.

April 22, 2017 - 7:19pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Earth Day, DeWitt Recreation Area, environment, news.

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Volunteers of all ages came out to DeWitt Recreation Area in Batavia today -- Earth Day -- to help clean the park and participate in various learning activities.

One of the activities was an "emerald ash borer game," where several children were emerald ash borers, two were volunteers and one was a park ranger. The emerald ash borers had 10 seconds to lay their eggs in as many ash trees in a wooded area (represented by small, green disks). Then volunteers would identify infected trees and the park ranger would come along and replace the ash trees with another kind of tree. The game illustrated how much faster an infestation can spread than forest rangers can act to do anything about it.

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April 5, 2017 - 9:54am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Oatka Creek Watershed Committee, Le Roy, news, environment.

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Press release:

The Oatka Creek Watershed Committee Inc. (OCWC) is indebted to the Victor L. Blood and Maudaline L. Blood Charitable Foundation Inc. for its generous support for our Storm Drain Marking Project in the Village of Le Roy. 

Over the years of meeting and working with the community of Le Roy, we have heard so many stories and found memories of the creek. Anyone can see why this place holds a very special place in the hearts of the residents.

The committee is currently working to complete the marking of storm drains in the village that run directly to the creek. Storm-water runoff is a leading cause of water pollution. We will be securing metal medallions that have sayings like “No Dumping” and “Drains to Creek” on them. Last year, more than 100 markers were installed. This year, we are hoping to mark 400!

Come and help OCWC finish installing markers on storm drains around  the Village! It’s fun and easy, and helps remind folks that what goes down the drain, ends up in the Oatka Creek.

We will be meeting April 15 – the Saturday right before Easter –  at 8:30 a.m. in the parking lot behind the Le Roy United Methodist Church (off Trigon Park). We will be working until noon. We have all the supplies, so just bring yourself and wear comfortable shoes.

Rain Date: April 29th -- same time/same place.

If you can lend a hand, give Pete a call at 585.538.2223 or email him at [email protected]

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January 30, 2017 - 1:27pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Lehigh Derailment Site, Le Roy, environment, news.

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It's been five years since a site of a toxic chemical spill in Le Roy -- known as the Lehigh Train Derailment Site -- made the news as part of a media frenzy around reports of students at the high school developing strange, unexplained tics, but cleanup work has been ongoing since, according to a spokesman for the EPA.

In fact, good progress has been made and the end may be in sight for remediation, according to Michael Basile, who represents the Environmental Protection Agency in Buffalo.

There's no firm timeline for completion of the work, but there have been two significant recent developments, he said.

First, last year some 300 pounds of trichloroethene (TCE) contaminated soil was removed from the area, he said. That removal effort is ongoing and will continue until testing shows TCE has been removed from the area. (CORRECTION: This should have read 300 pounds of TCE removed from the soil).

Second, a draft document on remediation options for contaminated groundwater has been completed and the EPA will pick a plan from those options for remediation sometime this year.

The TCE spill was the result of a train crash at the site on Gulf Road in the early morning hours of Dec. 6, 1970. Approximately 2,000 pounds of cyanide crystals and 30,000 to 35,000 gallons of TCE were spilled. The cyanide was removed, but at the time Lehigh apparently didn't have an easy way to remove the TCE. Instead, it tried saturating the area with one million gallons of water. This only drove the TCE deeper into the ground and contaminated about 50 water wells.

The site became a footnote in local history until 2012 when a group of mostly girls at Le Roy High School were reported to have developed odd tics and uncontrolled movements.  As families and members of the community searched for answers, the spill site became a target for investigation.

Famed environmental crusader Erin Brockovich was contacted, and though she never personally came to Le Roy, she sent out a team of scientists led by Robert Bowcock.  

The entire event had reached a fevered pitch in the national media by that point, with news crews from nearly ever major news outlet in the country arriving in Le Roy, as well as crews from as far away as Japan.

A trip to the site on the day Bowcock arrived in town revealed a cleanup area that appeared to be largely neglected. More than 300 rusted barrels of material were being stored there, further feeding concerns about the state of contamination.

However, Bowcock's own tests and his examination the topography of the region, led the Los Angeles-based environmental scientist to conclude that contamination from the site did not and could not reach the location of the high school and there was no known connection for all those suffering from the tics to the railroad property contamination.

The ongoing concern about its status, however, brought about a visit to the site by Congresswoman Kathy Hochul. Sen. Charles Schumer also got involved.

The EPA soon closed the location to media access and brought in crews to remove the barrels, which the EPA said were filled with rock, sand and dirt and did not likely contain contaminated soil. Later testing, the EPA announced at the time, detected a trace amount of TCE in some barrels.  

In the five years since the events, there have been no new reports of strange tics among young people in Le Roy and there have been reports that the dozen or so people originally treated at the Dent Neurological Institute are all improved, confirming the earlier diagnoses of a mass psychogenic illness. 

The EPA continues to monitor the site closely, Basile said. This includes maintaining soil vapor monitors in homes near where the spill occurred. Next month, he said, it will be time for inspectors to visit those monitors and change their filters. That monitoring is expected to continue indefinitely. 

Photo: File photo from 2012.

January 24, 2017 - 4:36pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in news, Trump Administration, environment.

So far it looks like a sweeping activity freeze placed on the Environmental Protection Agency by the Trump Administration will have little impact locally.

The new directive bars the EPA from issue new grants or entering new contracts.

In some regions this could mean brownfield redevelopment projects could see funding delayed or eliminated, but City Manager Jason Molino said none of the Batavia Opportunity Area projects depend on federal funding, so the change in policy will have no impact on the BOA.

Molly S. Cassatt, managing director of the county's Soil and Water Conservation District, said there are no pending grants impacted by the order, but she isn't sure about the status of a recent grant application. The district joined seven other counties in the region, she said, on a grant application for a sediment and nutrient reduction project in the Genesee River Watershed. The eastern half of Genesee County, which includes Oatka and Black creeks, is part of that watershed.

If that grant is blocked, she said, there is still state money available to help with the project in those creeks.

County Manager Jay Gsell said he isn't away of any immediate impact on county government.

The Trump Administration has also ordered the EPA to cease all public communication, including the issuing of press releases, participation in social media and blogs and website updates.

We emailed the EPA to check the status of funding for cleanup of the superfund project in Le Roy, the Lehigh Train Derailment Site, which was seemingly neglected until 2012 when the Le Roy tic issue came up, and a staff member responded referring us to the Buffalo EPA representative. We called his office and he is out of the office for the day.

The USDA has received the same communications order.

We tried calling the local USDA office, located on Liberty Street, and we were referred to the public relations officer for the region, based in Syracuse. This would probably be standard procedure anyway, but the officer asked us to email our question about local news media communication. He's since responded that he will provide a response as soon as possible.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer issued the brief statement about the EPA's freeze on grants and contracts:

“EPA’s fundamental mission to protect clean air and clean water for public health and safety is being impeded by the unprecedented decision to freeze all grants and contracts. This decision could have damaging implications‎ for communities across New York, from delaying testing for lead in schools to restricting efforts to keep drinking water clean to holding up much-needed funding to revitalize toxic brownfield sites. The Administration should reverse this damaging policy immediately,” Schumer said.

August 4, 2016 - 1:13pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in weather, drought, water, environment.

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There isn't much water flowing in the Tonawanda Creek, but the blue heron are still there hunting for meals.

Genesee County, like the rest of Western New York, is officially in a drought warning, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation.

That means there are no official restrictions on water use, but residents and businesses are asked to voluntarily conserve.

Tim Hens, whose responsibilities include, as county highway superintendent, watching over the county's water supply, said the county and city discussed issuing a water advisory, but decided that doesn't appear to be necessary and probably won't be necessary through the summer, even if no significant rain arrives before winter.

"We haven't had more than an inch of rain in a single day since October of last year," Hens said. "That's a long time for Western New York."

He said this is the dryest summer with the most consecutive sunny days he can remember in 45 years as a county resident.

"Unfortunately, we're probably already past the point of no return for farmers," he said.

Hens said current reserves and the available water from the Monroe County Water Authority gives the county, and by extension, the city, enough water to meet current needs and he doesn't anticipate a spike in demand.

"Most people seem to have given up on their lawns," he said.

The low water level at DeWitt Recreation Area has created a wide land bridge to the lake's island. The land bridge has been exposed all summer and the first time it's appeared in several years. The current level is just 3 inches above the record low, a record set in 2001.

The long-range forecast calls for a pretty snowy winter.

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April 23, 2016 - 1:36pm

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As part of an Earth Day observance, volunteers came out to the DeWitt Recreation Area in Batavia to help with spring cleanup.

The walk around the park was about more than just trash pickup. It included a guided nature walk led by Amy Jessmer, from Albion, with a degree in environmental science from SUNY Brockport, where she is currently working on her master's degree. Jessmer spoke about native and non-native species and the environmental balance of the lake and surrounding habitat.

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The water level of DeWitt is exceptionally low. George Squires, retired from the county's soil and water department, said he doesn't believe he's seen it this low since the 1980s.

April 9, 2016 - 8:39pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, steve hawley, Recycling, environment, news.

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The vehicles filled with electronic waste were lined up and down Route 5 this morning, and by this afternoon, trailers were stuffed and bins were gorged with has-beens of the Digital Age, all destined to appropriate recycling facilities rather than a landfill.

The event outside the county's Social Services building was organized by Assemblyman Steve Hawley and his staff with a heaping trove of help from the Batavia High School Track Team.

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September 15, 2015 - 11:07am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Stafford, hydrofracking, environment.

The Town of Stafford became the first local community to ban hydrofracking within its borders with a 4-0 vote of the board on Monday night following a public hearing where every speaker supported the ban.

Fracking involves using hydraulic force, with a mixture of water, chemicals and sand, to extract gas from shale. The technique is controversial. Opponents believe the process generates soil and water contamination.

"This is the wisest, the safest and the best thing to do for our community for many years to come," said resident Judy Manly.

Another speaker, who didn't provide her name, said it was up to Stafford to protect itself because the town can't count on the legislature or governor to ban it and current state Department of Environemtnal Conservation regulations could easily be overturned by another administration.

"Passing this law in our town is a safety measure that we absolutely need," she said.

Three years in the making, the law prohibits extraction, exploration, storage of wastes, and other activities in connection with underground injections for petroleum or gas production within the Town of Stafford limits.

July 9, 2014 - 4:31pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in agriculture, environment, NY-27, chris collins.

Press release:

Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) today questioned Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Deputy Administrator, Honorable Robert W. Perciasepe, at a Science, Space, and Technology Committee hearing on the EPA’s overreaching rule proposal entitled “Definition of the ‘Waters of the United States’ Under the Clean Water Act.”

“The problem is the public doesn't trust the EPA, farmers don't trust the EPA not to overreach, Congress doesn't trust the EPA,” said Congressman Collins during today’s hearing.

“Deputy Administrator Perciasepe and the EPA fail to recognize that their agency’s overreach is causing real harm for farmers and stalling business development across our country,” Congressman Collins said. “When I visit with farmers in my district, the heavy burdens under the Clean Water Act come up each and every time. When the bureaucrats at the EPA decide to call a divot in the ground that fills with rain a ‘navigable waterway’ under the CWA, we know our federal government has run amuck. The fact that the EPA and U.S. Army Corp of Engineers are now looking to formally broaden the definition of ‘navigable waters’ is an insult to hard working farmers all across this country.”

May 31, 2014 - 2:30pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, environment, O-AT-KA Milk Products.

O-AT-KA Milk Products was issued a notice of violation by the DEC on April 24 for chemicals and waste materials being spilled into a lagoon south of Ellicott Street.

The company is complying with all DEC demands and requirements for dealing with spills from its dairy processing plant at the corner of Cedar and Ellicott streets, said David Crisp, director of business development for O-AT-KA.

The spills were brought to the attention of the DEC by Attica resident John Volpe (pictured above), a Native American well known locally for his environmental work.

Volpe said he's concerned about the health and well being of the fish, turtles, frogs and other wildlife in the lagoon, which is part of a 110-acre wildlife refuge owned by Chapin Manufacturing. The creatures, Volpe said, are part of the chain of life.

"This is how we look at our own life," Volpe said. "These are our teachers. All of our relations means just that. They’re all of our relations. You don’t leave out a worm or an eagle or whatever. We’re supposed to watch it and we’re supposed to protect it. That’s one of our jobs as among the people who walk this earth. It should be everybody’s job."

Volpe shared documents he said show serious environmental damage to the lagoon, including photos of more than 100 dead fish and dissection photos taken of dead animals -- such as turtles, frogs and fish -- showing medical issues (Volpe emphasized several times that he and his helpers never killed any animals, but merely took for samples and evidence animals they found dead).

The DEC letter accuses O-AT-KA of violating its SPDES (State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit and three sections of environmental law.

The letter specifically accuses O-AT-KA of causing a drop in water quality standards for pH, solids and water color from spills on at least six separate occasions. The spills, according to the DEC, contained milk and/or cleaning solutions.

The letter also specifically cites a fish kill of various species April 15.

O-AT-KA was accused of discharging water that causes or contributes to conditions in violation of state code; discharging industrial waste in violation of state code; and discharging pollutants at a frequency or volume in excess of permitted standards.

The company was given until May 7 a turn over a document called "Best Management Practices" as well as a summary of response actions, investigations and corrective measures taken for each reported spill since August 2013. 

By yesterday, O-AT-KA was required to complete a facility review and submit a corrective action plan designed to prevent or minimize potential damage from future spills.

The DEC also required O-AT-KA to install a continuous recording pH meter.

Crisp said O-AT-KA has been fully compliant with the DEC's requirements, an assertion confirmed by Linda Vera, spokeswoman for the DEC in WNY. 

"O-AT-KA has taken a number of actions to mitigate and prevent additional discharges," Vera said.

Crisp said a DEC official was on hand one day recently when an alarm sounded from the new system indicating there was an increase in pH in the outflow line to the discharge pipe and the officials saw firsthand that plant workers responded immediately to correct the problem.

"It really comes down to how dedicated O-AT-KA is to the highest level of environmental protection," Crisp said. "That's why we're working with the DEC to assure O-AT-KA is in compliance with the SPDES permit."

There were two spills of milk, Vera said. One in August and another in October. She said steps were taken to prevent future spills and there have been no similar discharges since October.

"The remaining incidents were related to cleaning solution discharges," Vera said. "Action was taken after each incident to determine the source, and O-AT-KA added monitoring equipment and changed practices to mitigate the issue. During DEC's early May inspection, the probable source was identified. A deteriorated flooring in one of production areas allowed cleaning/disinfection solution to seep into a deteriorated pipe beneath floor. O-AT-KA is taking necessary actions to repair piping and floor."

It's still possible O-AT-KA could be fined for the spills, but the DEC has made no determination yet on further enforcement actions, Vera said.

One source we spoke to for this story suggested we look at the notice of violation delivered to O-AT-KA in context of how many DEC violation notices are handed out locally in a year, suggesting that there's nothing remarkable about a company getting a letter of violation.

According to the DEC's database of spills, there have been 76 incidents reported in the past 12 months in Genesee County. Eight of those have been tied to O-AT-KA, which more than any other source in the county. Only three of those spills -- where the size of the spill is known -- involve 100 gallons or more, and two of those involve O-AT-KA. Those are a spill of 125 gallons of milk product in August 2013 and 3,000 gallons of sodium hydroxide in January.

There were 48 incidents countywide reported in the prior 12 months, none involving O-AT-KA.

The series of spills has been a concern to Chapin, CEO Jim Campbell said, and company officials have met several times with O-AT-KA officials to review the measures taken to prevent future problems.

The 110-acre preserve includes nature trails available to employees and the area is teaming with wildlife, Campbell said. Andris Chapin, a family owner and chairman of the board, is keenly aware of environment issues, Campbell said, and once a year takes interested employees on a nature trail walk through the preserve. 

The company also has an environmental manager. He is Mark Volpe, who is also the plant manager and is John Volpe's brother.

Campbell said Chapin is confident O-AT-KA is responding appropriately. It's his understanding, he said, that O-AT-KA has spent more than $100,000 on preventative measures. He said O-AT-KA has recently brought in new executives with a good deal of technical experience in environmental issues.

"They've done a great job and have a great solution in place," Campbell said.

John and Mark Volpe started monitoring and measuring the Chapin's 110-acre habitat in 2008, acquiring and maintaining detailed records on the species and quality of life in the preserve.

It was through that process that John Volpe became increasingly concerned about spills from the O-AT-KA plant, which he said go back further than the August 2013 date covered by the DEC letter.

As he saw more and more environmental damage to the lagoon, he began raising concerns to the DEC, to the point, he believes, that some officials at the DEC started trying to avoid his phone calls.

In his workshop at his home in Attica, Volpe showed dozens of presentation boards displaying charts and tables documenting discharge dates, water temperatures, pH readings and photos of dissected animals and dead fish.

When Volpe found dead fish, he and his helpers photographed where each fish was found, collected them, brought them back to Attica, weighed and identified the species of each fish and photographed each one individually.

The dead fish included sunfish, bullhead and bass.

The DEC was slow to act on contamination issues at the lagoon, contends Volpe.

"Why didn’t the DEC do this and cite them sooner so maybe these fish would still be alive?" Volpe said. "This is not the first fish kill. We’ve had other fish kills."

Volpe's wife caught in a net one bass near death. It was blind, had lost all its slime and was emaciated. The Volpes have nursed it back to health. It's eating again and its eyes have cleared of the haze that covered the pupils. The fish has become more active in its tank.

The blindness and loss of slime is a result of a high pH in the water as well as sodium hydroxide and hydrogen peroxide reaching the lagoon.

Volpe is also concerned about the water temperature in the lagoon, which he said was above 60 degrees in March (he takes the water temperature every day) and the turtles and frogs need the water below at least 50 degrees to hibernate.

There is also evidence of frogs "toxing out," Volpe said. The toxins in the water cause their legs to shoot straight out, become rigid and they can't jump. Eventually, they die.

Volpe was arrested in February and accused of illegal possession of protected turtles and birds of prey. 

The DEC had known for years and years about Volpe's conservation efforts involving wildlife, his friend and supporter Mike Bastine said during a meeting at Volpe's house. It was only after Volpe started making waves about O-AT-KA that the DEC decided to come down hard on Volpe.

"If you look at the implications from the spills that he has documented, that has a much greater impact on the environment than the violations they subjected him to," Bastine said. "Is the issue really about protecting the environment and the animals and the life around us? No, not really.

"They think if they can shut that part of his work down, he's going to go away and say, 'they beat me,' that he'll have to throw in the towel because he can't defend himself. They're hounding us saying we need a permit to hold a feather or care for turtles, but that's our responsibility and that's our custom. It's our job. It's our duty to step in an assist."

In her e-mail response to a series of questions, Vera did not respond to the accusation that Volpe has been targeted for enforcement because of his O-TA-KA complaints.

She said the DEC had been monitoring O-AT-KA independently of Volpe, but found his work helpful. 

"DEC's actions have been ongoing, and are not dependent on Mr. Volpe's findings," Vera said. "However, some of the discharges discovered by Mr. Volpe, have provided assistance in mitigating the discharges and investigating potential sources."

Volpe said he's also concerned because the lagoon sits over the Batavia's aquifer. All of the city's water is pumped from wells in the area. He thinks the contaminants could seep into the aquifer.

City Manager Jason Molino said that really isn't a concern. Even if any contaminants reached the aquifer, the city treats all of its water before it's distributed.

Molino's confident, he said, the DEC has things under control.

"We've spoken with O-AT-KA and the DEC," Molino said. "I think the DEC is aware of the situation and has responded to it and are in constant communication with O-AT-KA. Otherwise, it's outside our jurisdiction."

This photo is from Genesee County's GIS map. The photographs that comprise the map were taken in April 2013. The Chapin Lagoon is in the lower left. O-AT-KA's plant is in the upper right. There is a dirt road that Hanson Aggregates uses running from Ellicott Street. Beside it is a drainage ditch, which apparently is how runoff from O-AT-KA reaches the lagoon. We have no confirmation of what the milky white substance is in the lagoon, but there is no spill around that time period reported in the DEC database.

Sign by drainage pipe that runs under Ellicott Street to a stream that runs to the Chapin Lagoon.

One of the no trespassing signs marking the property line of Chapin's 110-acre wildlife refuge.

March 19, 2014 - 11:57am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Oakfield, environment, water.

Press release:

Several of the initial water samples collected this week from private drinking water wells located near Batavia-Oakfield Townline Road -- east of Route 63, and Lewiston Road south of Batavia-Oakfield Townline Road -- have confirmed bacteriological contamination of coliform bacteria and E. coli. Residents who had their water tested and confirmed positive have been notified at this time. These organisms can cause diarrhea, cramps, nausea, headaches, or other symptoms. They may pose a special health risk for infants and people with compromised immune systems. Residents in this area who are experiencing these symptoms should contact their medical provider.

Although the contamination has been confirmed, the exact origin and extent cannot be determined without further analysis, the Genesee County Health Department will assist the Department of Environmental Conservation in this process in the near future.

Impacted residents are urged to continue to follow the instructions below until their water can be confirmed safe to drink. With the extent of the contamination unknown at this time, re-occurrence of contamination is possible.

If you are living in the identified area and would like your well water tested, please contact the Genesee County Health Department at (585) 344-2580, ext. 5525. There is no charge for this testing.

March 17, 2014 - 7:40pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, agriculture, Oakfield, environment, boil water advisory.

A single positive well test Friday set off an alert for residents in the area of Batavia-Oakfield Townline Road and Lewiston Road to boil their drinking and cooking water, officials confirmed this afternoon.

The test found bacteria in the well water of a single residence on Batavia-Oakfield Townline Road, said George Squires, manager of the Genesee County Soil and Water Conservation District.

"It may be attributed to some manure spreading that may have gone on in the area," Squires said. "I was out of town all last week and just found out Friday myself. I don't have a lot of details because I've not been out there myself yet. I spoke briefly with a farmer and his consultant this morning and the health department this afternoon. I don't have a lot of details and I don't feel comfortable about making any conclusions yet."

County Health Director Paul Pettit said the affected area is no more than 25 parcels.

"We haven't pinpointed the exact source," Pettit said. "We wanted to alert the residents of those houses right around that area that there may be an issue with wells in the area."

There was a communication miscue on Friday, Pettit said. The health department alerted the Emergency Dispatch Center and the Emergency Services Office with the expectation that the alert they drafted would be sent only to the affected 25 or so residents. There was no intention to send out a media release, since it was such a small section of the county. Instead, the alert was sent out countywide and regional TV stations mistakenly reported that there was a boil water advisory for all of Genesee County.

The confusion led today to the City of Batavia putting out its own announcement informing residents that there is no boil water advisory for the city.

The communication Friday is "something we need to review and look at," Pettit said.

Both Squires and Pettit discussed the difficulty farmers face this time of year. They're eager to prepare crop lands for tillage and planting, which requires properly timed manure spreading, but there are also regulations for larger farmers that govern when they can do it.

"Larger farms are supposed to monitor weather and predict significant melting events," Squires said. "They're not supposed to spread in advance of an event like that. This time of a year, predicting warm temperatures in advance gets to be a little bit of a challenge."

It's a violation of a farm's permit, Squires said, to contaminate ground or surface water.

There may have been one or two other spills in county recently, Squires said, but there's been complaints about wells elsewhere in the county (Squires said he didn't have details yet; the spills could have been in areas that are already on public water, therefore well water wouldn't be contaminated).

"I need to get ahold of the DEC and find out what's going on," Squires said.

A week ago, a reader in Oakfield contacted The Batavian to complain about a possible manure spill. We requested info from the DEC but have not received any further information. Neither Squires nor Pettit were aware of any reported spills in the area prior to the well complaint received on Friday.The single well on Batavia-Oakfield Townline Road is the only confirmed instance of well contamination at this time.

For more on what to do when a boil water advisory is issued for your area, click here.

UPDATE: Here's a map of the affected area, provided by the County Health Department.

March 14, 2014 - 5:34pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in agriculture, health, environment, county health department.

There is apparently a recommendation for a small number of Genesee County residents to boil their household water because of a possible manure spill in the area of Batavia Oakfield Townline Road and Lewiston Road.

The announcement came from the NY-Alert system, not from the County Health Department.

The announcement was released just before the health department closed for the weekend, though it contained information to call the health department for further information.

The announcement says, "At this time, the extent of the contamination is unknown and we would therefore recommend that you boil tap water in your home or use bottled water for drinking and cooking. If your well water quality changes as noticed by color and/or smell, immediately stop using it for all household uses other than flushing toilets."

The first version of the announcement was a recommendation for all Genesee County residents to boil water, then a second version said the spill was in the area of Batavia-Oakfield Townline Road and Lewiston Road.

Because the health department is closed, no further information is available at this time.

November 20, 2013 - 6:45pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in environment, NY-27, chris collins, fracking.

Press release:

Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) criticized Governor Andrew Cuomo today on the House floor for continually delaying hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in New York.

Congressman Collins was speaking in support of legislation to limit the ability of the Obama Administration to regulate fracking. The Protecting States’ Rights to Promote American Energy Security Act (H.R. 2728), which Congressman Collins voted for, prevents the federal government from imposing new and burdensome fracking regulations on states.

“In New York we are already facing significant challenges in regards to fracking at the state level. We do not need additional, burdensome federal regulations like those proposed by the Obama Administration, which are over-the-top and step all over the state’s authority to regulate this type of activity,” Congressman Collins said. “Federal ‘one size fits all’ regulations are designed to wrap fracking efforts in endless red tape which will do nothing but slow job creation, decrease domestic energy production and increase the cost of business. “

“States should control their own destiny when it comes to fracking,” continued Collins. “In New York, I remain baffled as to why Governor Cuomo continues to cater to the state’s fringe anti-business interests by upholding the moratorium on fracking. Across the border in Pennsylvania, the economy is growing leaps and bounds because they are taking full advantage of their strategic location along the Marcellus Shale. It is sad that New York is squandering this same opportunity.”

It is estimated that, if finalized, the new regulations being proposed by the Obama Administration will cost $345 million annually or $96,913 per fracking well.

The Protecting States’ Rights to Promote American Energy Security Act also places parameters on a current Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study related to fracking and potential impact on drinking water resources. The bill’s provisions will help ensure the EPA study produces an objective evaluation.

“There is a real and legitimate fear that the bloated bureaucracy at the EPA will once again produce an open-ended, biased and non-transparent study,” Collins said. “For any study to be helpful to both decision-makers and scientists, it needs to contain an objective risk assessment.”

May 30, 2013 - 2:15pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in business, environment, Alpina.

You can make Greek yogurt at home. About all you need is some yogurt culture, a whisk and cheese cloth.

After you strain your batch you're left with a watery white liquid known as whey. You will have about three ounces of whey for every ounce of yummy yogurt.

One Web site lists 18 possible uses for whey in your home, whether as a substitute for other liquids in cooking or as a skin care product. But for Alpina, which produces 245,000 tons of Greek yogurt a week, getting rid of the 455,000 tons of whey a week isn't that simple.

Right now, the whey is hauled to a facility in Wyoming County where it is digested into methane and used to generate electricity, but Alpina is exploring other options for dealing with whey.

Whey has become controversial in media reports over the past week or so. It started with a well-researched and reported story in Modern Farmer about the Greek yogurt boom with an unfortunate headline, given the substance of the story: Whey Too Much: Greek Yogurt’s Dark Side.

The story was far from frightening, but outlets such as Fox News and USA Today turned it into overblown headlines such as Toxic waste from Greek yogurt poses danger to waterways and Greek yogurt's dirty little secret.

What's this dark side, this toxic danger, this dirty little secret? 

If whey goes into a stream or lake, bacteria will boom and suck all the oxygen out of the water, killing all the fish.

But there are no reports of any whey from Greek yogurt being illegally dumped. In fact, the Modern Farmer story details both the responsible methods for disposing of it now and explores research into other possible uses.

Disposing of whey in a responsible manner is important to Alpina, said Roger Parkhurst, director of operations for the Batavia plant.

Labeling whey "toxic waste" is the kind of statement that could be said about a lot of substances, Parkhurst said.

"You could apply the term to gasoline," Parkhurst said. "We put it in our car and it's beneficial, but if it's abused it becomes a dangerous material. We handle whey right and in a responsible manner so that it isn't a danger."

Beneficial uses for whey include converting it to an energy source -- which Alpina does now -- or using it to supplement cattle feed, which Alpina is also exploring.

Alpina would love to sell its whey, so that the money spent to haul it off can instead become a source of revenue. A Cornell researcher is studying methods for turning whey into a baby formula supplement. That work is promising, Parkhurst said.

Whey could also become a direct energy source for the Alpina plant, saving the company money. 

Parkhurst said the company is interested -- though has no specific plans -- in finding a way to digest whey on site and convert the methane into electricity and convert the heat from the process into heat for Alpina's building.

Mark Masse, vp of operations for Genesee County Economic Development Center, said companies have contacted the agency about building a digester at or near the Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park, including working directly with Alpina, but it has never received a formal application.

"I am not sure why any of those projects haven’t moved forward yet," said Masse in an e-mail response to a question, "but my best guess is that they can’t secure a long-term contract for the waste product, and/or that these digester projects are very capital intensive and they usually try to secure NYSERDA grants to help defer these capital costs to shorten the payback period of the project and can’t secure those grants."

There are also concerns about any environmental risks associated with a digester located at a food processing park that sits above an aquifer.

Experts have told Masse, he said, that whey needs to be mixed with animal waste to be properly digested and any company proposing such a project would have to prove it could be done in a safe manner.

"We never got far enough along with any of the digester companies to have this conversation with them in depth or with our board," Masse said. "That issue would have to be discussed at length if any company wished to use animal waste in their process, and our board would have to approve it."

One local farmer has contacted Alpina about obtaining whey to mix with cattle feed, Parkhurst said. The farmer said he checked with Cargill, which provided him with a formula for mixing whey with his feed and now he would like to find out how to get his hands on some Alpina whey.

"That's just one farmer and he's not capable of taking on the whole thing," Parkhurst said. "But if it helps his business and it helps our business at least some, I would be more than happy to participate."

Alpina is actively exploring all options for whey waste, Parkhurst said, looking for the most economically sensible and environmentally sound solution.

"We've even worked a little bit with RIT and GCC," Parkhurst said. "There is money floating around to help research any practical application."

A local operation that may be able to take on all of Alpina's whey waste is Baskin Livestock.

Baskin, as we've reported before, specializes in taking food company waste and converting it into cattle feed.

Bill Baskin is eager to explore a partnership with Alpina to bring whey waste to his plant on Creek Road in Bethany. 

"We work with food producers all over the Northeast to get rid of their waste," Baskin said. "There’s no reason we can't do it right in our own back yard."

With any food production, there is a substantial amount of waste -- batches get mixed wrong, products are spilled or spoiled or unsold product goes bad. Baskin takes all that waste, dries, grinds it and turns it into cattle feed.

Quaker-Muller is already sending some of its product waste to Baskin, but the way the plant will make yogurt -- the Quaker-Muller plant officially opens Monday -- there is no whey waste.

"Our yogurt is consistently high quality because we add milk protein from strained milk to our yogurt to deliver the same delicious texture and taste every time," said Scott Gilmore, spokesman for PepsiCo.

Until recently, Baskin and Parkhurst hadn't spoken, but yesterday, Baskin's director of business development, Peter Klaich, met briefly with Parkhurst and Parkhurst said he's certainly interested in learning more about how Baskin can help with whey waste.

Parkhurst is proud that Alpina buys almost all of its raw ingredients from farmers in Genesee County and WNY. The potential of working with Baskin fits right in with that philosophy, Parkhurst said.

"We're always interested in working with local companies," Parkhurst said.

April 20, 2013 - 5:56pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Oakfield, environment, Earth Day.

Samantha Pangrazio pulls a bag of garbage from under a tree off Albion Road, in Oakfield.

Pangrazio, along with Jacqualine Chamberlain (pictured) and Debbie Martin, were on Albion Road this morning picking up trash and litter as part of a community Earth Day clean up. More than a dozen other volunteers participated.

This is the fourth year for the event, which Pangrazio started her sophomore year in high school.

"As a kid I grew up out in the middle of nowhere and I saw how people always threw garbage around and it really bothered me," Pangrazio said. "My mom would take us out and we would clean up the garbage. I thought it was something other people don't really think about, so I wanted to raise awareness about how gross some people can be."

This year's sponsors were: Genesee County Roofing, Lamb Farms, Loraine's Day Care, Caryville Inn, Alli's Cones & Dogs, Santino's Pizza and Becky's Treasures and Crafts.

March 12, 2013 - 1:34pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, environment.

The cost will be significant to clean up a former industrial property at 301 Bank St., Batavia, but it will be the state that picks up the bill, the City Council learned Monday night.

Some 4,000 tons of solid waste needs to be removed and another 20,000 tons of contaminated soil must be dug out and trucked to Texas for incineration.

The current owner of the property, Batavia Waste Material Co., Inc., went into bankruptcy in the mid-1990s. The city could have filed a tax-lien foreclosure in 1999, but the risk was the city would take on the responsibility for clean up of any contamination.

For more than 50 years, the property was used as an iron and metal recycling facility, so the possibility of contamination seemed likely.

"From a city perspective, the situation first involved a Hobson's Choice," said City Attorney George Van Nest. "What do you do? Do you foreclose and maintain municipal ownership, or do you leave it alone for the next 100 years."

The city found a middle way in the early 2000s -- apply for a state grant to hire a consultant to do an environmental assessment and come up with a plan for cleanup. 

Working with the Department of Environmental Conservation, the city hired GZA GeoEnvironmental of New York, based in Buffalo, to take on the study and develop the plan.

It's been a slow process, at a cost of more than $200,000 (city share, 10 percent) because DEC officials have had to approve it each step along the way.

Fieldwork was conducted between January 2006 and December 2010. There were 22 test pits dug, 50 soil probes, seven monitoring wells sunk and some 130 soil, sediment, surface water and groundwater samples collected.

The result -- some significant contamination on some portion of the property, including lead and PCB.

Already, some 40 tons of soil laced with PCB and pesticides have been removed and incinerated in Texas, just to take care of the most pressing issues.

Now the DEC is considering a full-on cleanup and will hold a public meeting at 6:30 p.m., March 20, to present its findings and gather public input. A final "record of decision" will be released March 31.

The cleanup, called remediation, is expected to take as long as 10 years, but when completed, the city will be able to finally foreclose on the property -- valued at about $190,000 -- and then sell it to the highest bidder. CORRECTION: The entire prodcess, starting in 2004, is a 10-year process, so officials expect completion in 2014.

The property is zoned for residential development.

As for who pays for the cleanup, the DEC will use money from the state's Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Site Superfund, a pot of money collected from fines and fees paid by polluters. 

Part of the Superfund process for a site cleanup is identifying a "responsible party" who will then be billed to remediate the current site.

"This is the best case, because we don't have to take over the property and be responsible for the cleanup and assume the cost of the cleanup," City Manager Jason Molino said. "In time, we can turn it into residential property."

Top photo: Chris Baron, consultant with GZA GeoEnvironmental.

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