But has the Board of Supervisors already buried its own advisors’ recommendations?
At least one positive change might come of the disaster last summer at TCI of NY, whose PCB-handling facility burned to the ground almost one year ago... That is, if the Columbia County Board of Supervisors heeds the advice of its Environmental Management Council (EMC), rather than suppressing its recommendations.
Finding that TCI’s operators “showed disregard for the safety of plant workers, the community, and the environment,” the EMC issued a stiff memorandum to the Supervisors back on June 24th. Drawing lessons from the TCI incident, the memo recommends “strategies that Columbia County and municipalities could adopt to avert the recurrence of such an event,” including tough new rules for the management of hazardous waste in the entire County.
However, over a month later, the Board of Supervisors still has not made the recommendations public. This site now has obtained a copy of the letter, authored by chair Ed Simonsen, and apparently recommeneded unanimously by EMC members, and it can be downloaded as a PDF via this link.
Noting the lack of disclosure, reporting, and oversight of TCI’s operations leading up to the company’s inferno, the EMC concluded that “numerous Ghent residents, and residents from surrounding communities who volunteer to fight fires, were exposed to danger due to negligence.”
Furthermore, the Committee found that even as TCI conducted at least one unpermitted activity involving PCBs, “no effective oversight was provided by any level of government.” Noting also that TCI lacked “appropriate fire suppression... chemical or smoke detection systems,” the committee then proceeds to offer 10 common-sense recommendations, which are reproduced below in full:
- Any proposed project which would produce or handle toxic or potentially toxic substances should be subjected to a rigorous SEQRA process. Detailed plans showing all processes and operations along with their approved methodologies should be reviewed by an independent environmental consulting firm and the results of the analysis reported to the reviewing board. Plans should also include the identification of safe handling and storage practices of all appurtenant chemicals used at the site. Towns abutting this use should be designated as interested parties. Regardless of location there should be a referral to the County Departments of Health, Safety, and the County Planning Board.
- Conditions of approval should include provisions for unannounced inspection of the facility by a qualified and or licensed chemical engineer. Assuming a local oversight plan, persons providing this service should be required to have the requisite education, license or experience to adequately assess those substances and procedures being used/carried out at the site. These should be augmented by NYSDEC and USEPA inspections.
- The cost of each inspection would be the responsibility of the plant operators in perpetuity. An escrow account funded by the business operator/owner to fund inspections should be created.
- Costs borne by local fire and rescue squads/ companies to equip themselves and train to address accidents at the site should be paid for by applicant/plant operator.
- Comprehensive, detailed records should be retained by the municipality and contain all board reviews and conditions of approval or rejection.
- If a project is approved by the community’s designated reviewing board, monthly reports should be required to be made by the owner/plant operator to the town board or its designee and should be available to the for the public to read, These reports would itemize and describe in detail and quantify all materials entering and leaving the plant. This would include all materials in trailers or other mobile devices. Copies would be forwarded to the local Fire Company and Town Board. The project operators shall also maintain off site material records which are held by an independent party.
- Consideration should follow a risk analysis to determine benefits and potential detriments of a proposal which deals with hazardous substances. Communities may wish to exclude or deem incompatible some uses. Short of prohibiting a given use, the community should establish a “Zone of Vulnerability” which delineates minimum separation distances to schools, nursing homes, hospitals, or heavily populated areas.
- The plant operators/owners shall not be permitted to sub-lease or sub-contract any portion or use of the site to any other entity without review and approval granting a special use permit.
- Proper permits should be obtained and maintained with NYSDEC, USEPA, and OSHA.
- A chain of custody for all chemicals and toxic substances entering and leaving the premises should be available to authorities upon request.
Despite the apparent urgency and importance of these ten recommendations, the Board of Supervisors did not release the memo publicly, prompting Simonsen to re-submit it this Tuesday, this time to the County’s Government Committee. According to one EMC member, Stuyvesant Supervisor Ron Knott “pretty much questioned most of our observations and suggestions. He further suggested that the memo be sent to the County Attorney's office to determine if the contents of the memo were legal.”
According to its mission statement, the EMC was created by the Board of Supervisors in 1974 in compliance with State Environmental Conservation Law Article 47, a/k/a the Local Environmental Protection Act. Its stated purpose is “to advise local and state government, and where resources within the county are influenced, the federal government, on present and proposed methods of using, protecting, and conserving the environment for the benefit of all the people.”
Methods of pursuing that mission include “research, recommendations, reports, plans, inventories, and public information and education,” thus placing the current memorandum well within its apparent powers and goals.
According to the memo, the EMC based its review upon “available reports,” in particular the February 2013 findings of the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control.