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Sam and Jerry’s Neighborhood

In this week’s “7 Days” column, Lou Ricciuti and I poke a little fun at Sam Santarosa and Jerry Williams, two guys whose relationships with hazardous wastes and contaminated industrial sites have made them very rich indeed, but who have made recent appearances in the Niagara Gazette wearing the mantle of environmentalism.

To tie the two men together further, we pointed out that they are neighbors in tony Lewiston Heights, whose streets wind around the Niagara Falls Country Club. As it happens, there’s an environmental history lesson in that neighborhood, too, and we’ve written about it before, in a piece called “The Exclusion Zone.”

By all means, read it if you’d like. The story was inspired by this photograph:

That’s a 1946 reunion of industrialists, military men, and scientists instrumental to the Manhattan Project, held at the Niagara Falls Country Club, located on Lewiston Road, whose environmental problems we began to write about three years ago. The postwar “E” Award series luncheon was attended by Major General Leslie R. Groves (under the mirror), the military director of the Manhattan Engineer District of the US Army Corps of Engineers (the name Groves gave to the project), and Colonel Kenneth D. Nichols, Groves’s right-hand man.

Thirty years after this picture was taken, an aerial survey commissioned by the Department of Energy suggested that the streets of Lewiston Heights were contaminated with radioactive material. At the time, we wrote:

What could have caused this contamination? One can only speculate now: Probably it was either fill used in a construction project or road paving material—gravel, cinders, oil—which contained contaminated material from industrial sites.

The use of contaminated waste material, usually referred to under the harmless-sounding catchall “slag,” for fill and paving has been a chronic problem that has grown far more sinister in the six decades that Niagara County has been a radioactive waste dump. Witness these two upcoming re-paving projects (one for Lewiston Road and one for Buffalo Avenue), both of which are complicated by the fact that road bedding materials currently in place are radioactive…

A crew from West Seneca’s Occhino Paving is currently re-paving the streets around the Niagara Falls Country Club, too, and replacing water lines while they’re at it; there has been no indication that the work was preceded by further radiological surveys to determine if the contamination identified in the 1978 EG&G survey still exists, and there is no record of the contamination having been remediated in the interim.

The possibility of radioactive waste under those roadbeds was never acknowledged and Occhino Paving wasn’t specifically commissioned to do that sort of work. Still, the company may have unwittingly excavated and removed whatever contaminated material the Department of Energy survey had discovered 30 years earlier. If they did, then Lewiston Heights got its cleanup. The list of places in Niagara County that still need remediation—preceded by thorough, historical assessments of environmental and human health issues—remains very long.