Communications Unite Concerned Citizens

Communications Unite Concerned Citizens

By Charles Lamb and Bill Rolland,
Residents for Responsible Government – Lake Ontario Basin

Although the struggle to prevent further toxic waste storage along the shore of a Great Lake in New York is not yet complete, Residents for Responsible Government, together with other groups are making progress.

Located near the shore of Lake Ontario, Chemical Waste Management (CWM) is a facility for the storage of toxic materials. Not only is CWM a site for toxic wastes, it is commonly known as the only licensed toxic waste site in the entire northeastern section of the country. Permits allow tons of toxics to be brought here from 30 states, Canada, and even from overseas. One could hardly imagine a less suitable place for toxics, so near the Great Lakes, which contain nearly 20% of the surface fresh water in the world.

Not only that, but CWM is located on top of ground that was once part of the Manhattan Project. Recently, the US Army Corps of Engineers found plutonium, strontium and other radioactive material on the CWM site where they plan to dig. It seems that people in the past thought the land was already ruined so it could be further degraded, not thinking about the danger of stirring the soil and the volatile mixture that might be created.

CWM is located in the small town of Porter.When the town board voted to grant CWM the right to expand into a larger area despite overwhelming public opposition, Residents for Responsible Government Inc. (RRG) came into existence. RRG demanded that the expansion be denied and that no future permits be granted until the site could be proven safe. Through an initial mass mailing to over 11,000 households, over 350 citizens came to early briefings and elected officials started to take notice. Since then, state, county and nearly all local municipalities have passed legislation or sent letters of support urging limits to future CWM growth.

Although the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) had licensed the site long ago, a law was passed by the New York State Legislature in 1987 calling for the DEC to provide a more equitable and geographically dispersed siting plan. As a result, in 1994, the New York State Supreme Court ordered the DEC to produce a siting plan “with all deliberate speed.” This order has still not been obeyed, and the DEC continues to extend the license for CWM without a thorough review.

Through public pressure, the Niagara County Legislature moved to require a full environmental review and has hired an independent lawyer to assist in the effort of providing a better site plan for the disposal of toxic substances. RRG has linked with other concerned groups to call attention to the situation here by conducting research, holding meetings and informing the public of the issues surrounding CWM and its expansion.

Community Communications Key to Success

With a grant from the Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Network and Fund, another from the Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club and donations from many individuals, Residents for Responsible Government was able to respond to CWM’s publicity. Through community communications including bi-monthly press releases, with approximately 50% acceptance rate by local media, and regular contact with 25 newspapers,we have secured the support of both our state senator and state assemblywoman to help us with our cause.

As a result of our local media successes, we have embarked on a campaign for national media exposure and have been developing connections with over 20 newspapers, including the New York Times and the Albany and Rochester newspapers, and one television documentary. Three channels of regional television regularly attend RRG programs and most also run some footage on their programs. Additionally, RRG has become a regular with four local talk shows and a couple of closed circuit television programs.

In order to draw attention to the DEC permit and siting plan hearings, RRG also conducted a yellow ribbon campaign in which several thousand flyers and ribbons were distributed to residents who tied them on mailboxes and poles. Colored newspaper insert sheets continue to be used every six months to update the community, to announce an issue or to invite residents to a hearing or an RRG information session.Typically, 11,650 inserts are distributed through a weekly paper with the last briefing session drawing about 650 attendees.

Another key component to our communications campaign is the use of paid advertising. Selectively, RRG uses paid advertising in two local newspapers for two purposes; first to be sure that our message gets out in a clear, unedited form, to better inform the populace and editors; and second, to reinforce the strength and presence of RRG. Additionally, RRG maintains our own website where numerous articles help inform the public. Links to other organizations, supporting coalitions and some news sources are also incorporated into the site. Through the site, RRG has been able to build a database for immediate communication and call-to-action appeals.

Fighting for the Entire Great Lakes Area

The Niagara County Health Department is spearheading an effort to conduct well water and soil testing. The department is also urging the State Attorney General to assist in investigating resident complaints, telling CWM it must immediately begin water and air monitoring for radiological contamination, and that based on existing data and tests, it does not have sufficient basis for rescinding its 1972 order by the Health Department that said no excavation should be allowed on a portion of CWM property.

We have gained data from the New York State Department of Health showing that the rate of some types of cancer in areas near CWM is far higher than in other parts of the state.While CWM may imply this is due to the chemicals used by farmers, this reasoning does not hold up because farmers use chemicals in other parts of the state as well.

Expansion by CWM would necessitate their rerouting a creek. We believe the expansion might also lead to radioactive runoff into Lake Ontario. It is in the interests of the fresh water supply for many communities that this not be allowed to happen!

We feel that the battle we are fighting here is not just for one small community in the northwest corner of the state, an area that could be “written off” as expendable by our state officials.We feel that we are fighting for the entire Great Lakes area, and fighting for responsible management of radioactive and toxic waste.

So with allies like the Citizens Environmental Coalition, Great Lakes United, the Sierra Club, and others, Residents for Responsible Government continues the fight. We have had some successes; we have slowed down the permitting and expansion process. But the battle will not be won until CWM is closed and a proper long term maintenance program is in place. The battle will not be won until toxic wastes are dealt with responsibly, or not produced at all.We are grateful for our allies in this important effort.

By Charles Lamb and Bill Rolland
Residents for Responsible Government
P.O. Box 262, Youngstown, NY 14174
716.745.7037 •

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