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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.

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, 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.

October 30, 2012 - 6:00pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Business, environment, Tonawanda Creek, 7-Eleven.

Yesterday work crews started removing the fuel pumps and fuel tanks from the Wilson Farms location at 355 W. Main St., Batavia.

While people have told us the tanks needed to be removed because they were leaking fuel into the Tonawanda Creek, information obtained from the DEC indicates that's just not the case.

While there is some localized soil contamination, which the DEC is supervising for remedial clean up, the leak is contained to the property.

The property owner is listed as Sugar Creek Stores. Both Wilson Farms and Sugar Creek were sold to 7-Eleven early last year.

Earlier this year, 7-Eleven announced it was selling two Wilson Farms stores in Batavia. Industry reports at the time indicated 7-Eleven was not interested in locations that sell gas, but 7-Eleven recently rebranded the former Wilson Farms location in Oakfield.

While a source tells us the property owner plans to discontinue gas sales at the West Main Street location in the city, we've not yet been able to confirm that with a company representative.

The property is .35 acres and stretches from the shared property line with Settler's west toward Lambert's Design Jewelers, with a length of green space in between the buildings.

Fuel tank removal is expected to take another week or two.

UPDATE: A spokeswoman for 7-Eleven said the property is on the company's "divestiture list." It will be sold.

October 27, 2012 - 10:34am
posted by Howard B. Owens in environment, weather, outhdoors.

Press release:

Western New York waterfowl hunting season opening Saturday, October 27, will likely be affected by the widespread reduced precipitation from last summer’s hot and dry weather, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced today. These conditions caused water levels to drop substantially in many wetlands and dried up other wetland areas. Recent rains have improved conditions; however water levels remain lower than normal. It is important for waterfowl hunters to scout potential hunting sites when making plans.

DEC Region 8 contains the state’s premiere waterfowl hunting areas in the form of the managed marshes at Iroquois and Montezuma National Wildlife Refuges and Northern Montezuma, Oak Orchard and Tonawanda Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs).

The dry wetland conditions are particularly pronounced at the Iroquois WMA. In addition to some intentional drawdowns of impoundments to stimulate the growth of seed-producing annual plants preferred by waterfowl, the drought caused some additional units to go dry and the remainder to drop well below normal levels. The lack of rain also meant that there was no moving water to reflood the intentionally drained units. Several units are still mostly dry and all are below normal; many are one foot lower than usual. The number of permits issued was reduced by 20 percent for opening weekend at Tonawanda WMA due to lack of water in some impoundments.

The situation is less severe at Northern Montezuma WMA, where some wetland units dropped water levels significantly, but none went completely dry. Water levels in the Seneca River, Barge Canal and Crusoe Creek are lower than normal, but will support waterfowl and public access. Half of the managed marshes contain water levels suitable for hunting waterfowl, and in all sites, the production of seed-bearing annual plants is exceptional.

This year, for the first time in many years, the main impoundment at Conesus Inlet WMA was drained to regenerate the marsh vegetation. A normal year of precipitation would have made it difficult to keep the unit drained as there is a decent sized stream that flows through the marsh. The dry weather this year stopped that flow and allowed a complete drawdown. The unit is now reflooded to about half the normal depth where it will be held it until next year to allow the vegetation to fully rebound.

Overall, the waters in the marshes are more than enough to hold ducks and the extra vegetation and seeds produced due to the low waters will attract and hold birds. The biggest impact will be to hunters who usually access the marshes in boats. The low waters may make it impossible to float a boat, and will require wading to access the more remote locations. The increased vegetation may also make it a bit more difficult to find any downed birds.

October 19, 2012 - 3:04pm

There are no known plans to open a hydrofracked gas well within the town limits of Stafford, but Jim Southall thought it a good idea to purchase an "insurance policy" so to speak.

At his suggest, the town board has passed a one-year moratorium on hydrofracking within Stafford.

A committee has been appointed to study the issue, according to Supervisor Robert Clement and that report will help the town determine what, if anything, it might do next related to hydrofracking.

The moritorium is part of a statewide trend over the summer of local officials throughout New York rising up against hydrofracking, even though the state already has a four-year moratorium against new wells in place now.

Fracking involves injecting water, saline and other chemicals into shale to break loose natural gas deposits that can then be extracted from the ground.

It's controversial because opponents believe the chemicals used can be carcinogenic and toxic.

Southall said he's read of cows in West Virginia being born with deformities and a whole town in Wyoming had to be closed because of hydrofracking pollutants ruining the groundwater.

As a representative of the Genesee County Fish and Game Association, owners and operators of Godfrey's Pond in Stafford, Southall thought it important to get out in front of the issue, before hydrofracking came to the area.

"With the kind of chemicals they're using, once the water is polluted, it's gone, and being a conservation club, we want to be sure that doesn't happen," Southall said.

At a public hearing on the topic a month or so ago, Clement said, there were no speakers in favor or against the moratorium.

He's not aware of any fracked wells in Stafford or any requests to open up such a well.

"For most people, I think it's a non-issue," Clement said. "I think the state will step in before anybody else does. But it's a conservation issue and I think most of them (Genesee County Fish and Game) are against it."

September 28, 2012 - 8:47am
posted by Daniel Crofts in Arc GLOW, environment, Recycling.

Michael Smith hopes that "future generations of our children will ask, 'What were landfills?'"

Smith is the trash/recycling coordinator at Genesee ARC. He is pictured (left) with Floor Supervisor Mark Wood.

His comment was part of an opening speech at last night's open house for the agency's new Trash & Recycling Center.

The open house was in celebration of the center's move from its former location on Clinton Street (in the City of Batavia) to a larger facility at 3785 W. Main St. Road in the Town of Batavia.

Genesee ARC, which serves children and adults with developmental disabilities, has handled the City of Batavia's waste management for nearly 30 years.

"Recycling was a natural spinoff," Smith said.

And now, with New York State's recycling and take-back program for electronic items, they are going to be even busier.

By law, businesses, municipalities and waste collection companies can no longer throw away old computers, TVs, or other covered electronic devices -- known as "e-waste" -- into the trash or into landfills. Instead, the manufacturers must take them back for recycling purposes.

ARC's new Trash & Recycling Center location will house the agency's e-waste recycling efforts, which are part of an expansion of endeavors and a growing need for services that prompted the move to West Main Street Road.

At this time, according to Wood, all of the materials that go through ARC's Trash & Recycling Center are sent to mills around the Northeast region and Canada.

"They take the products and re-manufacture the raw material into new soup cans, new milk cartons, new boxes," etc.

In addition to being good for the environment, the center also give employment opportunities to people with disabilities, which Wood sees as a major plus.

Photos: Top four photos by Howard Owens. Other photos by Dan Crofts.

Government officials present at last night's event included:

Jeremy Bennett, a representative from Congresswoman Kathy Hochul's office, with ARC Executive Director Donna Saskowski.

Genesee County Manager Jay Gsell, with ARC Director of Development Shelley Falitico.

For more information on ARC's Trash & Recycling Center, click here.

Disclosure: Dan Crofts works for Genesee ARC. He is employed at the Day Habilitation site in Elba.

More pictures (click on the headline for more):

April 13, 2012 - 8:09am
posted by Howard B. Owens in GCC, environment.

Staff and students of Genesee Community College were on R. Stephen Hawley Drive yesterday picking up roadside garbage. Within two hours, the group gathered more than 17 bags of garbage from along the shoulders of the roadway.

The project is part of the lead-up to Saturday's Cool Kids! ECO-Fest at GCC. On Saturday, you'll be able to come by the Batavia campus and drop off your old electronics for recycling and get the pressure on your tires checked.

Pictured, Kevin Manne, left, Donna Rae Sutherland, Keisha Magruder, Dayami Cruz, Lori Sutch, Michael Garrett and Stephen Morsch. Also participating but not pictured was Tom Klotzbach.

February 14, 2012 - 6:29pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in environment, Le Roy.

The amount of carcinogenic agent reportedly found in a water sample from a private well in Le Roy is at a concentration level below legal limits, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The agency also plans to seek its own sample from the well, but it's unclear if the DEC will investigate further, such as trying to determine the source of the possible containment.

The chemical is known as MTBE (methyl tert-butyl ether). It has been used as an additive in gasoline and diesel fuel, but was outlawed for such use in New York in 2004.

Bob Bowcock -- a researcher from California who took water samples in Le Roy more than two weeks ago at the behest of environmentalist / lawyer Erin Brockovich -- said Friday that the chemical turned up in a sample from a private well at a residential property.

According to Bowcock, MTBE could be part of any hydrofracking fluid (there are various mixtures) that uses gasoline or diesel fuel.

Fracking was used to open the natural gas wells on the property of the Le Roy Central School District and there are reports that at least one of the wells suffered a leak or spill of fracking fluid.

DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said DEC staff conferred with Bowcock today and concluded that the sample taken by Bowcock had six micrograms per litre, which is below the state's limit of 10 micrograms per litre.

It's also below the federal Environmental Protection Agency's drinking water advisory for MTBE, which is 20 to 40 micrograms per liter, she said.

DeSantis offered no opinion from the DEC on how the MTBE got into the well, which is according to Bowcock, a little less than a mile from the southeastern-most natural gas well on Le Roy school district property.

Yesterday, the DEC -- through spokeswoman DeSantis -- expressed little interest in Bowcock's reported finding. DeSantis maintained that MTBE is not used in fracking fluid and the DEC had no reason to believe the company that fracked the Le Roy school wells used MTBE as part of its mixture.

After being pressed for more information, DeSantis arranged for Bowcock to speak with DEC staff. It was only after further email exchanges with The Batavian that DeSantis confirmed the DEC would conduct its own testing.

Since 2008, companies engaged in fracking gas wells are required to disclose the chemicals used in the process, DeSantis said.

"While the most recently drilled wells on the LeRoy CSD property were permitted prior to this requirement, the well driller informed us of the chemicals used to fracture the wells and MTBE was not used," DeSantis said. "Again, MTBE is not used in hydraulic fracturing."

When told of DeSantis's statement, Bowcock said he was flabbergasted by her response. He said prior to even coming to Le Roy, he had had conversations with DEC staff on other matters about MTBE being in fracking fluid.

While there are numerous environmental websites that say MTBE is contained in fracking fluid, it's harder to locate a neutral source online, even the EPA.

Bowcock supplied an EPA document that said a Bureau of Land Management report confirmed MTBE in fracking fluid, but the same paragraph in the same document says the EPA has not confirmed the use of MTBE in fracking.


EPA also obtained two environmental impact statements that were prepared by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In these impact statements, BLM identified additional chemical compounds that may be in fracturing fluids including methyl tert butyl ether (MTBE) (U.S. Department of the Interior, CO State BLM, 1998). However, EPA was unable to find any indications in the literature, on MSDSs, or in interviews with service companies that MTBE is used in fracturing fluids to stimulate coal-bed methane wells.

The MTBE issue isn't his main focus, Bowcock said, but resolving the issue for property owners is important to him. Further testing could make the case for the homes to be put on public water -- possibly at the expense of the energy companies (paid for, possibly, as part of a prior environmental settlement).

May 11, 2011 - 7:33pm

Members of the Genesee County Harley Owners Group were out on Route 98 recently picking up trash as part of an ongoing effort to help keep local roadways clean.

The Harley club does clean-ups four times per year.  

The group is responsible for Route 98 from the Thruway to Elba.

Pictured are Paul Ballard, Bob Aiken and Fred Devore.

Photo submitted by Frank Capuano.

April 10, 2011 - 12:07pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, GCC, environment, Recycling.

Hundreds of residents drove up to Genesee Community College CC on Saturday to drop off old computers, monitors, printers, TVs and other household electronics so they could dispose of the broken, outdated technology in a safe, environmentally friendly way.

While there, Todd Sloat, of Sloat Tires, would check the air pressure on the motorists' tires, if they wished.

March 31, 2011 - 2:34pm
posted by Billie Owens in environment, Earth Day, cool kids eco-fest.

This information comes from Genesee Community College.

Genesee Community College's Earth Club, Student Activities Office and College Village are once again joining Cool Kids to collectively produce the 6th annual Cool Kids Eco-Fest.

This free, fun-filled, yet educational event aims to increase awareness of important environmental issues and it celebrates Earth Day.

From alternative fuel cars to kites, solar power displays to a big plastic bag bash, water bugs to a giant map of the Earth, Eco-tips to Eco-button making -- it's all at the Batavia campus from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 9.

Both indoor and outdoor activities will be happening throughout the four-hour event, which winds down with the Eco-Raffle of great green prizes, including the Grand Prize -- a mountain bike provided by Adam Miller Bikes and Toys. (You must be present to win.)

While many of the popular eco-opportunities will be back -- such as the annual residential E-Waste Collection and Sloat Tires Inflation Station outside in the parking lot -- there will also be many wonderful new green alternatives to explore and enjoy.

New to this year's celebration will be the collection of worn American flags for honorable disposal by Sheppard, Maxwell and Hale. In addition, this year's ECO-Tips Illustration Contest, sponsored by ESL Federal Credit Union, features fun and unique prizes in the following six categories:

  • Children's Coolest Category: Pre K through Sixth Grade
  • Most Unique Reused Item
  • Best Illustration
  • Longest Term Impact for the Environment
  • Greatest Innovation / Absolutely Cool Awesome Idea
  • Most Fun or Funny

Last year, we had some incredibly clever contributions to the Eco-Tips Contest and we are looking forward to seeing what local citizens, from pre-K classes to senior citizens' groups will create.

"It's a great way to 'get your green on,' " said Donna Rae Sutherland, Genesee's Earth Club co-advisor and associate director of Marketing Communications. "Eco-Fest continues to grow each year and the upcoming festival promises to be the best ever."

Entries for the ESL Eco-Tip Illustration Contest are being accepted now through to 11 a.m. April 9 for the Eco-Fest by sending them to Donna Rae Sutherland, GCC, One College Road, Batavia, NY 14020.

All entries will be on display at the event, and from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. contest judges will review entries and select the six prize winners. There is no limit on the number of Eco-Tip entries any one person or group can submit, and there is also no limit on the size of paper or form for each submission.

For Eco-Tip guidelines and the official entry form go to: http://marketing.genesee.edu/images/eco_tip_guidelinesform.pdf

Also new this year will be the bird-banding demonstration by Tom Klotzbach, a local birding expert and researcher, as well as a GCC alumnus and employee. He is currently in the second year of a three year bird-tracking project featuring more than 60 bird boxes located at GCC and on the western portion of the Ontario State Parkway.

The seasonal outdoor effort starts in early April when he will once again begin tracking various species of native and non-native birds. Through banding and bi-weekly nest box checks, Klotzbach is collecting bird data such as age, sex, fat score, and body mass. The collected data is used to study migration patterns with the U.S. Geological Survey, and is the foundation for his research on nest site fidelity.

The 6th annual Cool Kids ECO-Fest also includes more than 35 exhibits, presentations and activities, including the Cool Kids Wild Life Show and the Big Bag Bash.

As in years past, hundreds of people of all ages are expected to attend the event enjoying environmental fun and educational opportunities, and the more green things they do – the more Eco-Raffle tickets they collect to increase their chances of winning the mountain bike.

Among the ways to earn Eco-Raffle tickets:

  • Donating residential E-Waste or electronics such as old computers, monitors, calculators, TVs, VCRs, stereo equipment, video games, and microwave ovens (No other kitchen appliances, please.);
  • Donating paperbacks books for American troops overseas;
  • Donating worn American flags for proper disposal by Sheppard, Maxwell and Hale;
  • Donating cell phones and ink cartridges for Oakfield-Alabama Schools collection;
  • Creating an Eco-Tip for the ESL Eco-Tip Illustration Contest;
  • Getting your tire pressure checked by Sloat Tires Inflation Station;
  • AAA mercury hood lamp switch-out (for 2002 or older cars);
  • Being an Eco-Fest volunteer;
  • Wearing green.

 For further information contact Donna Rae Sutherland at 343-0055, ext. 6616.

September 7, 2010 - 1:37pm

Oatka Creek is the target of a clean up project, the first group service project of the academic year for Genesee Community College's Earth Club and Environmental Studies.

It takes place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 25. The students will cover one and a half miles of the Oatka Creek Park on Union Street in the Town of Wheatland.

The Creek Clean Up is part of a national initiative sponsored by the Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Clean-up and the American Littoral Society's Annual New York State Beach Clean Up.

This is the third time Genesee students and faculty members have volunteered for the cause.

Students and volunteers will break into teams, with each team equipped with a data recording card and a trash bag. Teams will gather trash and record what they find. At the end of the day, the trash will be totaled and weighed.

Last year, the volunteers collected eight bags of trash, totaling 190 pounds of debris. The data will be compiled and will be sent into the national Coastal Clean-up organizers.

"It's wonderful to see these students spend their Saturday helping out for a great cause," said Maureen Leupold, Earth Club member and professor of Biology at Genesee. "Although this may be one small creek clean-up, it is all part of the bigger picture of environmental responsibility."

The Ocean Conservancy is the world's foremost advocate for the oceans. Through science-based advocacy, research, and public education, they inform, inspire and empower people to speak and act on behalf of healthy oceans.

Ocean Conservancy is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and has offices in Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific, with support from more than half a million members and volunteers.

The American Littoral Society is a national, nonprofit, public-interest organization comprised of over 6,000 professional and amateur naturalists, with headquarters in Sandy Hook, New Jersey.

The society seeks to encourage a better scientific and public understanding of the marine environment, provide a unified voice advocating protection of the delicate fabric of life along the shore, and has been protecting coastal habitats since 1961.

Genesee Community College is on the forefront of this exciting and important industry with recent enhancements to its Environmental Studies degree program. This program offers an excellent introduction to the field, with plenty of hands-on learning, and small class and laboratory sizes offering exceptional instruction.

Environmental Studies students have access to an on-campus nature trail featuring plants and other wildlife demarcated with signage along the way. Students also have the opportunity to go out in the field for hands-on experience within the rural region that surrounds the GLOW region.

To find out more about Genesee's Environmental Studies program visit <http://www.genesee.edu >.

For further information about Genesee's Environmental Studies program or to volunteer at the Creek Clean-up, please contact Biology Professor Leupold at 343-0055, ext. 6394.

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