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Environmentalists Push for More Brownfield Hearings

By Mark Scott

Buffalo, NY – More than 50 environmental groups in New York are calling on the State Department of Environmental Conservation to do more to gain public input on pending regulations for cleaning up brownfields.

The groups are calling for public hearings in each of the DEC's nine regions in the state, rather than just the three hearings required by law. With as many as 30,000 brownfields in the state, the environmentalists say everyone in New York should have a chance to speak out.

Rick Ammerman who lives in South Buffalo's chemically-contaminated Hickory Woods said, if given a chance, he and his neighbors could provide some valuable input.

"Hickory Woods provides evidence of improper assessment prior to action," Ammerman said. "What we have here is 80 families living in harm's way because we didn't take time to assess and receive anecdotal input from people. What we have as a result is a bad situation that seems unsolvable."

Tuesday's news conference was held at a street corner in Hickory Woods, which was built adjacent to the old Republic Steel and Hanna Furnace plants. It was blustery with a distinct chemical odor in the air. University at Buffalo Chemistry Professor Joseph Gardella, who has advocated on behalf of Hickory Woods residents, said that odor is an example of the challenge the DEC faces in cleaning up brownfield sites.

"For the last ten days, air emissions with naphthalene have blanketed this neighborhood," Gardella said. "There's supposed to be a monitoring program in place. And the DEC is responsible for this clean-up. They've got a difficult job to do to handle these types of clean-ups."

The DEC is more than a year behind schedule in coming up with soil clean-up standards for brownfield sites. Different standards would be created for sites that remain industrial as opposed to those that will be used for residential development.

The draft brownfield regulations are due out later this month or in early November.