Late ’80s paperwork obtained by this website raises questions about when and how TCI of NY became a processor of PCBs. Company letters, official Town of Ghent correspondence, and media reports dating from 1986-1989 indicate that either TCI’s plans changed, or Town officials were mistaken about the company’s real intentions.
On September 3rd, 1986, David Rivenburgh of Falls Road Industrial Park, Inc. applied for two building permits related to land his corporation was acquiring from William Wiegelt. Rivenburgh indicated that one of the buildings planned for the site would be bought by TCI Incorporated of Hudson. Accompanied by a $50 check, his application didn’t mention the use of PCBs, but alluded to handling “electronic transmission and distribution equipment.”
Plainly, this language set off alarm bells with Ghent Planning Board chairman John Winkler. He wrote back on September 15th asking Rivenburgh to produce a letter from TCI Inc. The letter, Winkler said, should explain among other things “what waste products are produced,” “how is waste matter disposed,” and whether the company deals with “any toxic materials, particularly PCB’s.”
Within four days, David Laskin of TCI Incorporated wrote to Winkler, affirming that:
“We will not accept any material that has been manufactured as Polychlorinated Biphenyl (PCB) equipment.Laskin then goes onto reassure the Town:
“Any oil-filled electrical equipment we will handle will be tested and drained prior to being received at our operation. The testing is to insure that there is no more than trace amounts (.05% maximum) of Plycholorianted Biphenyls that may have entered this equipment through servicing or repair through the years.” [emphases added]
Later correspondence and official comments suggests that either Laskin was not adequately clear in that last sentence, or the Town failed to grasp a nod-and-a-wink message buried within the letter’s technical language.
Laskin also wrote to the Planning Board chair that its “proposed building is large enough that we do not anticipate a need for any outside storage.” Photographs of the site, as well as published accounts, show that materials were stored outside the building. Indeed, some have suggested that the impact of the fire might have been worse had more transformers and other materials been stored inside instead of out.
Indications that the Town of Ghent was starting to feel a bit bamboozled emerge from documents and news reports from 1988-89, when TCI applied to the State to add an incinerator to its Ghent facility. That incinerator plan was opposed by neighbors such as Marlene and Jerry Brody of Gallagher’s Stud, as well as by the Town. Legal wrangling dragged into the early ’90s, but the incinerator never came to pass.
The Town of Ghent’s legal correspondence firmly reiterates that TCI’s original application for a local use permit did not include the handling of “PCB equipment,” and that any other equipment would be drained “to insure there were no PCBs. On September 22nd, 1989, Town attorney Ted Guterman, (who is still serving in that capacity today) forwarded the Town’s Position Statement on the project to Planning Board chair Winkler:
“When TCI initially applied for a use permit in 1986... It was specifically indicated that the process would not include nor would TCI accept any material that has been manufactured as PCB equipment. It was further indicated that any oil filled electrical equipment would be tested and drained prior to being received at the premises in order to insure that there were no PCBs.”
Guterman’s understanding was echoed in a December 13th, 1989 article in the T-U, which quoted Brody attorney Jason Shaw as saying that “TCI was not forthcoming about the presence of PCBs when it applied three years ago to open its operation.” He added that “I don't think TCI was up-front about the fact that there would be toxic substances at the facility... They did not clarify the definition they used in an attempt to muddy the issue.”
In the same article, Guterman recalled “Laskin telling the Planning Board there would be no PCBs on the property.” Laskin countered that the Board “ knew we'd be handling the material and the amount would be miniscule... I can't remember how many hours we spent going over this.”
The Position Statement forwarded by Guterman also flagged the Town’s concern that TCI’s activities
“not result in any toxic waste generated or disposed of on the property or through the air, including PCBs. It should be noted that the Town of Ghent Zoning Ordinance contains a provision specifically prohibiting storage collection, retention or utilization of toxic waste or by-products or other similar toxic chemicals in any district.”
23 years later, the Town experienced what many residents now view as an uncontrolled incineration of materials which may never be authoritatively inventoried.
Whoever one chooses to believe as to TCI’s original intent, clearly PCBs at some point began passing through the facility in both lower and higher concentrations than 50 parts per million.
For example, as reported previously at this site, a March 2012 TCI manifest shows roughly 2,000 pounds (901 kilos) of liquid PCBs with a concentration of 50-499 ppm (parts per million), along with 350 pounds of solid PCB debris, was shipped from TCI in Ghent to their sister company in Alabama. The Albany Times-Union for its part has obtained records “that showed some 50,000 pounds of PCB-containing materials and oils moving from the Ghent complex this year.”
It remains to be seen if, when and how TCI modified its original application materials to secure permission for such use—or if the Town let this unintended use slide. With TCI saying it plans to rebuild, and many residents calling for a full site plan review if it really does, it becomes all the more essential to determine what precisely the company has been permitted to do locally.