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State agrees to community advisory group for former American Axle cleanup

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Mike Desmond / WBFO News
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The neighborhood around the former American Axle plant on Buffalo's East Delavan Avenue is going to get a larger role in the cleanup of the heavily contaminated industrial site.There’s long been pressure for the kind of community input that was so apparent from the Clean Air Coalition's work pushing the cleanup of the former Tonawanda Coke site in the Town of Tonawanda. Now, the state Department of Environmental Conservation said there will be a Community Working Group on the cleanup of the Delavan-Grider neighborhood.

Erie County Legislature Chair April Baskin said Albany agreeing to the community participation is important.

"In terms of process, this particular site did not call for the community collaboration that Tonawanda Coke did. But I desperately felt along with the Clean Air Coalition that despite that it may not have fit within the structure, there still needed to be a place for the community to understand this process and that’s what we got," said Baskin, whose district includes the 36-acre site.

On the state side, the leader will be Acting Region 9 Director Chad Staniszewski. He is local state chief regional remediation engineer and has done a lot of work with the community on cleaning the American Axle site and knows how many residents in that community feel about getting the work done while being told in advance what’s going on.

Many community meetings have been held. Sections of the property have already been cleaned up and there is a state Superfund site still to be remediated. The complicating factor in the cleanup is a major city sewer that runs through the land, a sewer line made up of bricks rather than a giant pipe.

Some of the site is also being used by Jon Williams’ Ontario Specialty Contracting and other of his businesses.

Baskin said the state cancer study showing serious problems on the East Side and into Cheektowaga suggested the plant site might be a cause.

"I do not feel like it’s anywhere near done and it needs to be revisited," she said. "It needs to be in the headlines again so that we can get some type of true understanding and restore trust in the community when it comes to that particular study. We should model that at what we have done here at the former American Axle site."

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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