Erie County Legislators voted Thursday to ask the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to seek Washington's much deeper pockets and ask the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to declare Tonawanda Coke a federal Superfund site and help pay for its cleanup.
Final details about the cleanup at Tonawanda Coke are a ways away and the likely cost might worry a professional sports team owner. New York State is already on the site and declared four different state Superfund locations on the Town of Tonawanda property.
"What this resolution calls for is for the Department of Environmental Conservation to request that it also be put on the federal Superfund list," said Erie County Legislator Kevin Hardwick, whose district include the Tonawanda Coke site. "We're not sure how much it's going to cost to clean up that site, but it's certain to run into the millions of dollars. We're going to need all the help we can get."
Hardwick worried a leak from the ponds and waterways on the site or a storm flushing them out would send highly dangerous chemicals into the Niagara River and downstream into the water system.
"Fortunately, that part of their legacy is now over, as they have ceased production," Hardwick said. "However, the story does not end there as what's left on that site, a site just a stone's throw away from the Niagara River, the source of drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people, they've left a toxic soup."
The vastly expensive Superfund program originated in the mess of the Love Canal crisis four decades ago. Hardwick said he sees "a certain justice" that it might help clean up another chemical waste mess not many miles away. However, with the EPA shut down, a decision on this might take a while.
"First of all, EPA has to get back to work and the officials we need to talk to are probably on furlough. I don't know, I really don't know," he said. "Obviously, it's not going to be this year. Probably not going to be next year, for the cleanup, but until we put in the request, we won't get into the queue."