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Regional EPA chief lauds successful cleanup efforts at Tonawanda Coke, 18 Mile Creek

Mike Desmond

The Environmental Protection Agency said its Superfund program is doing well in New York State, including Tonawanda Coke and the 18 Mile Creek area in Niagara County.

Across EPA Region 2, which is heavily New York and New Jersey, there are massive cleanup efforts underway and they are massively expensive. A site in Northern New Jersey has an estimate of $332 milion to clean up an 87-acre swamp. Often, former owners of industrial sites are forced to kick in for some of the costs of cleanup, like at Tonawanda Coke.

Regional Administrator Pete Lopez said Tonawanda is a big project.

"So, certainly, I see that as one of the more challenging, but I can see that our team's engagement was, I don't want to say flawless, but I was incredily impressed with the on-the-ground management of the site, the reporting, the engagement with the community, really highlighting everything that that portion of Superfund is really meant to accomplish," Lopez said.

Lopez said the goal is to stabilize the site in the Town of Tonawanda and turn it over to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

"So that they could pick up from there," he said. "We also had to coordinate closely with the site owner, who had some development in mind, and so it required some collaborative effort that at the end of the day also proved to be successful."

The site's new owner has redevelopment plans for part of the property, while engineers and scientists study how to clean up a massive environmental mess.

Lopez said the 18 Mile Creek cleanup in Niagara County, starting in Lockport, has been a major project because it involved moving people from their homes so the homes could be demolished because of contamination.

"Unfortunately, we've had to relocate some people and demolish some houses and disassociate some people from that area because of the fact that there are PCBs and lead right down there near the creek," he said.

In the fiscal year, Lopez said Region 2 finished cleanups and deleted all or part or 27 sites from the National Priorities List.

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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