New panel of advisers still in the works
Corps moves ahead with LOOW group

By Aaron Besecker - BUFFALO NEWS NIAGARA BUREAU
Updated: 04/02/08 6:56 AM

One day after the state attorney general's office said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was illegally trying to squash a community group involved in an investigation of environmental contamination, the corps moved ahead with its plans to form a new group.

Corps officials announced Tuesday they want input from the public on establishing a new Restoration Advisory Board for the former Lake Ontario Ordnance Works, located in the towns of Porter and Lewiston. The new group, plans for which were originally announced in late January, must be considered every two years and is "one of the many ways for the public to engage the corps," Lt. Col. John Hurley said in a statement. Corps officials have said they have to follow Department of Defense rules established in May 2006, guidelines not followed in the structure or operations of the present organization.

The agency promised to continue to work with the community, regardless of the outcome of the process now under way. "Regardless of whether there is or is not a [Department of Defense Restoration Advisory Board]," said Hurley, commander of the corps' Buffalo District, "we will press on with ensuring we provide the community many opportunities for public participation."

Members of the existing advisory board, which was formed in 2002, believe the agency should work with their group, which already represents and speaks for the stakeholders in the community. The corps has been sending them a message that they're asking too many questions, members have said. Various governments and agencies, including the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health, have expressed support for the group's current structure.

The former ordance works site is being investigated for various chemical and radiological contamination, including atomic wastes stored there from the Manhattan Project.

Monday, Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo sent the corps' Hurley a letter in which he called his agency's actions "illegal and misguided." Cuomo said the corps was not following its own established procedures in its attempt to replace the community group. Tuesday, a spokesman for Cuomo said the attorney general's office continues to believe that the existing advisory board is a critical part of the overall cleanup effort at the LOOW site.

Joseph A. Gardella Jr., chairman of the existing advisory board, said he believed Tuesday's statement by the corps sent the same message the agency sent in January when it made the original announcement and that he hopes to schedule a meeting with corps officials in the near future. "All we can do is just move forward with the jobs that we're doing," he said.

Corps officials want input on forming a new group to be sent before May 7.

Comments can be e-mailed to: derpfuds@usace.army.mil
or mailed to: Arleen Kreusch, Outreach Program Specialist, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1776 Niagara St., Buffalo, NY 14207.