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Ashford Town Board committed to a proactive attitude toward WVDP clean-up

BY: Lizz Schumer | August 17, 2011

The Ashford Town Board focused on the West Valley Demonstration Project for much of its meeting on August 10. Board Member John Pfeffer and Town Supervisor Chris Gerwitz especially stressed the importance of visibility in getting results at the site.

Pfeffer recommended that the board join the Energy Community Alliance, a stakeholder group for community development officials and local governments that are adjacent to or impacted by Department of Energy activity areas, which include the West Valley Demonstration Project.

“There’s a good amount of benefits in making our case and getting exposure,” Pfeffer explained. “It’s been recommended to us by NYSERDA, and we’ve learned a lot about ways to get our point across. As we enter phase one, we’re going to want to keep our eye on how things are going over there. Do we want to be in control of the clean-up or do we want the clean-up to be in control of us?”

The board approved the membership, which comes with a $900 annual fee, to be taken out of budget funds designated for joining associations and committees.

Pfeffer also requested permission to go to Washington, D.C. to talk to congressmen Thomas Reed and Brian Higgins about the future of the West Valley Demonstration Project, following those officials’ recommended legislation to restore funding to the project. The legislation is an amendment to H.R. 2354, the FY 2012 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill, which transfers $41 million in funds from administrative accounts to the non-defense environmental cleanup fund, supporting West Valley remediation. The bill has still not been signed by the Senate.

“They made the exact argument we’ve been making, but we’ve got to get in there now, or we’ll lose it in the long run. It’s important to get down to Washington right away, to get in their face,” said Pfeffer.

He explained that he had set up tentative meetings with both officials to discuss the issues. “When Reed was first running, before he was even elected, I told him it was important to maintain level funding. They got that bill passed through a house that was not nuts about it, so it’s important to move now. It’s just too important not to.”

Board Member Charlie Davis agreed and stressed the importance of speaking to NY Senator Charles Schumer, as well. “You’ve gotta get ahold of Schumer. The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” he said. Davis added that it is important for the board to become part of the DOE’s asset revitalization project, a prospect which has also been discussed at meetings in past months.

“We need to be the driving force on this thing,” he stressed. “It sounds crazy, but if we’re part of the DOE initiative, that’s where the money’s coming from, long-term.”

Board Member Bill Heim said he had some reservations, mostly centered on the current economic climate. “I think it’s a lot more difficult today. Three or four years ago, you might not have had such a problem, but the economics in this country has changed so drastically, it’s really going to be 10 times harder to get any money out of anybody,” he said.

“That’s my fear, that if we don’t get down there, they’ll forget about us,” said Pfeffer.

Gerwitz added, “Now’s the time to do it. If we don’t, we might miss the boat on it. This is $40 million we’re talking about. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, so let’s get going on it.”

The board approved Pfeffer’s proposal.

Gerwitz also brought to the board for consideration the possibility of becoming involved with the Blue Ribbon Commission set up to redistribute high level waste after Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository in Nevada was shut down in 2009. President Barack Obama set up the commission to find temporary storage sites for the waste previously held there.

“I saw the preliminary report in May, and they’re looking for sites for interim storage of high-level waste. I said ‘Hey, if we have to move canisters out into a concrete pad and are going to store waste there for probably my lifetime, there are 277 canisters out there, and we’ve got three acres’ worth of waste. There’s $15 billion available, and to clean up the site completely they said would be $9 billion. What if we said we’ll store that waste and get paid to do it?’ I’m just throwing it out there; why not look into it?” proposed Gerwitz. “I think it’s my responsibility to look into the way the government is moving today.”

Pfeffer weighed in on the issue. “They’re going to have regional storage areas set up around the country to take this stuff,” he added. “I have to say, I don’t care how much money they’re going to spit at us, I will fight this to my dying day.”

Gerwitz responded, “This is the way the government is going today whether we like it or not. If this is the direction the country is going, and if they’re going to spend $15 billion, I don’t want to see it just p****d away. I want to see the place cleaned up.”

Pfeffer reminded Gerwitz that the board had already said “unequivocally” that the site was not suitable for storage of high-level waste, the type of material the commission would be looking into placing. “We’re going to look foolish if we turn that around,” he added.

Art Munson, an Ashford resident, spoke up on the issue. “As a town resident, I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that I am appalled that the board would even hint that we’re going to be the spot that gets that s***,” Munson told the board. “It’s not safe, and it should be out of here. The town board needs to present a united front that we don’t want any more of their crap.”

Pfeffer reiterated that his main concern was the board’s changing its message, and he pointed out the importance of presenting a united front on the issue.

Pfeffer reminded Gerwitz that the phase two plan is projected to take place over a 30-year time span, and that asking for the interim storage of high-level waste to take place in West Valley after the clean-up would not “balance up” as a timeline. Gerwitz clarified that he does not want the board to get involved in the commission at this point, but that he brought up the idea as a point of discussion for the future.

“In this particular case, there’s an inherent danger of presenting a willingness to discuss the possibility of bringing more nuclear waste to West Valley,” said Munson. “The biggest issue in this whole town is cleaning up that site. We’d become the dumping ground for the whole United States. If I’ve got to bring 100 people with me to the next meeting to say we don’t support it, that’s what I’ll do. I’m absolutely flabbergasted that anyone in West Valley would want to see one more piece of crap put in that site.”

In other board news:

• The board sent a letter to Cattaraugus County stating that Ashford will not take over Peters Road until issues the board has been working on with the Legislature and department of public works are resolved. The county will maintain control of that road.

• The board also sent a letter to National Fuel expressing satisfaction with the progression of the current gas line construction project. Gerwitz spoke with the foreman on the project, who informed him that they intend to get the lines replaced as quickly as possible. Another crew will come in after construction is finished to take care of clean-up and paving.

“They like to get the whole thing paved at one time, rather than piece by piece,” Gerwitz explained. “We’ve had a couple complaints, but overall, I think they’ve done a great job.”

Highway Superintendent Tim Engels added that he spoke to the company, who told him it has approximately 4,000 feet worth of lines left to replace.

• Gerwitz reported that he had looked into installing solar panels on the roof of the community center through Solar Liberty, and was going to get exact figures to present to the board before deciding on the cost benefits of the project.

“I’m all for saving money,” said Heim. “But I’d like to talk to someone who has the system, see what it’s like after the honeymoon.”

• Pfeffer asked that the board look into the distribution of emergency alert signs, which direct ambulances, fire trucks and other emergency responders to residences and businesses, since approximately 139 signs remain that have not been handed out to those who had previously requested them.

“It’s a provisioning process,” Pfeffer explained. “We need to develop a process by which people who need them can get them. We need to make it the town’s problem because [the signs] do good things for everyone.”

He added that once the remaining signs have been distributed, he does not recommend giving them out to new builds. “We’ve got to draw the line in the sand somewhere,” Pfeffer said.

• George & Swede Sales and Service Inc. was the only bid received for a new excavator, the proposal for which Engels accepted. The town received the bid for $98,000 with a trade-in on the old excavator and more than $120,000 without the trade-in. The board authorized the trade-in because Ashford’s old excavator, which needs some structural repairs, would not yield more than $20,000 if it were to be sold outright.

“We went down to Little Valley and ran one; we really liked it,” Engels reported. “It’s about a ton heavier than our machine, lots of hydraulic power.”

• Cattaraugus County will be paving Thornwood Drive, which the board expects to take three - four weeks.

• The department of public works approved the West Valley Crystal Water Company’s funding rate, and work will begin in spring 2012. The department hopes to be able to get some engineering done this fall, weather depending.

The next town of Ashford Board meeting will take place on Tuesday, Sept. 14 at 7:30 p.m.

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