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Sale of contaminated Huntley plant an 'opportunity,' environmental groups say

Mike Desmond

A coalition of community groups wants a voice in what NRG Energy does with its Huntley power station, now that the closed facility is on the market.

The hulking facility and its support operations have been a fixture on the Town of Tonawanda's waterfront for nearly a century. Age and the costs of generating electricity by burning coal instead of cheaper natural gas eventually shut down the plant and drove a stake into tax collections for the town, Ken-Ton schools and Erie County.

What happens next with the site, which environmentalists believe is heavily contaminated, is not yet known. Students and teachers were among those who called on NRG Energy to remediate and re-develop the 84-acre site.

Kenmore East High School sophomore Evan Haeick demanded the company clean the site.

"NRG, if you can hear me now, this fight is far from over. It's time you cede to the town that has harbored your toxic polluting for many years and it's time that our residents feel safe again when you're gone," Haeick said. "You can end this really quickly. You have the capital and the resources to clean this site up. After all, it's your mess."

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

Ken-East teacher Cheryl Hughes said a site as polluted as this hurts those growing up nearby and some residents have paid a heavy price for the plant and its operations.

"Students who've been born near a toxic byproduct are more likely to have cognitive disabilities, be suspended from school, score lower on state tests and have to repeat a grade," Hughes said. "This is a toxic site and NRG, we need to know the plan for the cleanup."

Clean Air Coalition Executive Director Rebecca Newberry said the announcement the plant is on the real estate market is an opportunity.

"This sale provides a great opportunity to remediate and redevelop this 100-year-old coal site, in a way that improves community health, creates jobs and regains access to the waterfront," said Newberry. "This sale is a great opportunity to transform the Town of Tonawanda waterfront and improve community well-being. We applaud the Town of Tonawanda for encouraging the sale of this site."

NRG, in a statement, said it is working with state Department of Environmental Conservation on the decommissioning and closure of the site.

"We appreciate the interest of the Tonawanda community regarding the future of the Huntley site. NRG has been working with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) for some time on formal plans for the decommissioning and closure of the Huntley site, consistent with all applicable federal and state laws and regulations. We’ll continue working with DEC, the responsible regulatory agency, in parallel with CBRE’s efforts to market the site to qualified potential buyers and developers. We will also continue to keep community leaders informed as we make progress on both fronts," said NRG spokesman David Gaier.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also issued a statement on the sale:

“I urge officials at NRG to work with residents to implement a full clean-up plan that delivers a site free of pollution, and ready for future development. I was proud to work with the Town of Tonawanda, the University at Buffalo, and the Clean Air Coalition to secure a $160,000 grant to fund an economic development plan and a strategic vision for the Huntley site, and I strongly urge NRG to work in good faith the community partners to realize what Tonawanda residents want to for their community.”

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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