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Wednesday, March 19, 2014 at 11:57 am

Several wells in Batavia-Oakfield, Lewiston Road area test positive for bacteria

post by Howard Owens in batavia, environment, Oakfield, water

Press release:

Several of the initial water samples collected this week from private drinking water wells located near Batavia-Oakfield Townline Road -- east of Route 63, and Lewiston Road south of Batavia-Oakfield Townline Road -- have confirmed bacteriological contamination of coliform bacteria and E. coli. Residents who had their water tested and confirmed positive have been notified at this time. These organisms can cause diarrhea, cramps, nausea, headaches, or other symptoms. They may pose a special health risk for infants and people with compromised immune systems. Residents in this area who are experiencing these symptoms should contact their medical provider.

Although the contamination has been confirmed, the exact origin and extent cannot be determined without further analysis, the Genesee County Health Department will assist the Department of Environmental Conservation in this process in the near future.

Impacted residents are urged to continue to follow the instructions below until their water can be confirmed safe to drink. With the extent of the contamination unknown at this time, re-occurrence of contamination is possible.

If you are living in the identified area and would like your well water tested, please contact the Genesee County Health Department at (585) 344-2580, ext. 5525. There is no charge for this testing.

Monday, March 17, 2014 at 7:40 pm

One contaminated well on Batavia-Oakfield Townline Road led to boil water advisory

A single positive well test Friday set off an alert for residents in the area of Batavia-Oakfield Townline Road and Lewiston Road to boil their drinking and cooking water, officials confirmed this afternoon.

The test found bacteria in the well water of a single residence on Batavia-Oakfield Townline Road, said George Squires, manager of the Genesee County Soil and Water Conservation District.

"It may be attributed to some manure spreading that may have gone on in the area," Squires said. "I was out of town all last week and just found out Friday myself. I don't have a lot of details because I've not been out there myself yet. I spoke briefly with a farmer and his consultant this morning and the health department this afternoon. I don't have a lot of details and I don't feel comfortable about making any conclusions yet."

County Health Director Paul Pettit said the affected area is no more than 25 parcels.

"We haven't pinpointed the exact source," Pettit said. "We wanted to alert the residents of those houses right around that area that there may be an issue with wells in the area."

There was a communication miscue on Friday, Pettit said. The health department alerted the Emergency Dispatch Center and the Emergency Services Office with the expectation that the alert they drafted would be sent only to the affected 25 or so residents. There was no intention to send out a media release, since it was such a small section of the county. Instead, the alert was sent out countywide and regional TV stations mistakenly reported that there was a boil water advisory for all of Genesee County.

The confusion led today to the City of Batavia putting out its own announcement informing residents that there is no boil water advisory for the city.

The communication Friday is "something we need to review and look at," Pettit said.

Both Squires and Pettit discussed the difficulty farmers face this time of year. They're eager to prepare crop lands for tillage and planting, which requires properly timed manure spreading, but there are also regulations for larger farmers that govern when they can do it.

"Larger farms are supposed to monitor weather and predict significant melting events," Squires said. "They're not supposed to spread in advance of an event like that. This time of a year, predicting warm temperatures in advance gets to be a little bit of a challenge."

It's a violation of a farm's permit, Squires said, to contaminate ground or surface water.

There may have been one or two other spills in county recently, Squires said, but there's been complaints about wells elsewhere in the county (Squires said he didn't have details yet; the spills could have been in areas that are already on public water, therefore well water wouldn't be contaminated).

"I need to get ahold of the DEC and find out what's going on," Squires said.

A week ago, a reader in Oakfield contacted The Batavian to complain about a possible manure spill. We requested info from the DEC but have not received any further information. Neither Squires nor Pettit were aware of any reported spills in the area prior to the well complaint received on Friday.The single well on Batavia-Oakfield Townline Road is the only confirmed instance of well contamination at this time.

For more on what to do when a boil water advisory is issued for your area, click here.

UPDATE: Here's a map of the affected area, provided by the County Health Department.

Friday, March 14, 2014 at 5:34 pm

Alert issued over possible manure spill in Batavia-Oakfield area

There is apparently a recommendation for a small number of Genesee County residents to boil their household water because of a possible manure spill in the area of Batavia Oakfield Townline Road and Lewiston Road.

The announcement came from the NY-Alert system, not from the County Health Department.

The announcement was released just before the health department closed for the weekend, though it contained information to call the health department for further information.

The announcement says, "At this time, the extent of the contamination is unknown and we would therefore recommend that you boil tap water in your home or use bottled water for drinking and cooking. If your well water quality changes as noticed by color and/or smell, immediately stop using it for all household uses other than flushing toilets."

The first version of the announcement was a recommendation for all Genesee County residents to boil water, then a second version said the spill was in the area of Batavia-Oakfield Townline Road and Lewiston Road.

Because the health department is closed, no further information is available at this time.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 7:45 pm

Collins faults Cuomo for fracking delays

post by Howard Owens in chris collins, environment, fracking, NY-27

Press release:

Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) criticized Governor Andrew Cuomo today on the House floor for continually delaying hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in New York.

Congressman Collins was speaking in support of legislation to limit the ability of the Obama Administration to regulate fracking. The Protecting States’ Rights to Promote American Energy Security Act (H.R. 2728), which Congressman Collins voted for, prevents the federal government from imposing new and burdensome fracking regulations on states.

“In New York we are already facing significant challenges in regards to fracking at the state level. We do not need additional, burdensome federal regulations like those proposed by the Obama Administration, which are over-the-top and step all over the state’s authority to regulate this type of activity,” Congressman Collins said. “Federal ‘one size fits all’ regulations are designed to wrap fracking efforts in endless red tape which will do nothing but slow job creation, decrease domestic energy production and increase the cost of business. “

“States should control their own destiny when it comes to fracking,” continued Collins. “In New York, I remain baffled as to why Governor Cuomo continues to cater to the state’s fringe anti-business interests by upholding the moratorium on fracking. Across the border in Pennsylvania, the economy is growing leaps and bounds because they are taking full advantage of their strategic location along the Marcellus Shale. It is sad that New York is squandering this same opportunity.”

It is estimated that, if finalized, the new regulations being proposed by the Obama Administration will cost $345 million annually or $96,913 per fracking well.

The Protecting States’ Rights to Promote American Energy Security Act also places parameters on a current Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study related to fracking and potential impact on drinking water resources. The bill’s provisions will help ensure the EPA study produces an objective evaluation.

“There is a real and legitimate fear that the bloated bureaucracy at the EPA will once again produce an open-ended, biased and non-transparent study,” Collins said. “For any study to be helpful to both decision-makers and scientists, it needs to contain an objective risk assessment.”

Thursday, May 30, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Where there's a will to make Greek yogurt, there's whey left over

post by Howard Owens in Alpina, business, environment

You can make Greek yogurt at home. About all you need is some yogurt culture, a whisk and cheese cloth.

After you strain your batch you're left with a watery white liquid known as whey. You will have about three ounces of whey for every ounce of yummy yogurt.

One Web site lists 18 possible uses for whey in your home, whether as a substitute for other liquids in cooking or as a skin care product. But for Alpina, which produces 245,000 tons of Greek yogurt a week, getting rid of the 455,000 tons of whey a week isn't that simple.

Right now, the whey is hauled to a facility in Wyoming County where it is digested into methane and used to generate electricity, but Alpina is exploring other options for dealing with whey.

Whey has become controversial in media reports over the past week or so. It started with a well-researched and reported story in Modern Farmer about the Greek yogurt boom with an unfortunate headline, given the substance of the story: Whey Too Much: Greek Yogurt’s Dark Side.

The story was far from frightening, but outlets such as Fox News and USA Today turned it into overblown headlines such as Toxic waste from Greek yogurt poses danger to waterways and Greek yogurt's dirty little secret.

What's this dark side, this toxic danger, this dirty little secret? 

If whey goes into a stream or lake, bacteria will boom and suck all the oxygen out of the water, killing all the fish.

But there are no reports of any whey from Greek yogurt being illegally dumped. In fact, the Modern Farmer story details both the responsible methods for disposing of it now and explores research into other possible uses.

Disposing of whey in a responsible manner is important to Alpina, said Roger Parkhurst, director of operations for the Batavia plant.

Labeling whey "toxic waste" is the kind of statement that could be said about a lot of substances, Parkhurst said.

"You could apply the term to gasoline," Parkhurst said. "We put it in our car and it's beneficial, but if it's abused it becomes a dangerous material. We handle whey right and in a responsible manner so that it isn't a danger."

Beneficial uses for whey include converting it to an energy source -- which Alpina does now -- or using it to supplement cattle feed, which Alpina is also exploring.

Alpina would love to sell its whey, so that the money spent to haul it off can instead become a source of revenue. A Cornell researcher is studying methods for turning whey into a baby formula supplement. That work is promising, Parkhurst said.

Whey could also become a direct energy source for the Alpina plant, saving the company money. 

Parkhurst said the company is interested -- though has no specific plans -- in finding a way to digest whey on site and convert the methane into electricity and convert the heat from the process into heat for Alpina's building.

Mark Masse, vp of operations for Genesee County Economic Development Center, said companies have contacted the agency about building a digester at or near the Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park, including working directly with Alpina, but it has never received a formal application.

"I am not sure why any of those projects haven’t moved forward yet," said Masse in an e-mail response to a question, "but my best guess is that they can’t secure a long-term contract for the waste product, and/or that these digester projects are very capital intensive and they usually try to secure NYSERDA grants to help defer these capital costs to shorten the payback period of the project and can’t secure those grants."

There are also concerns about any environmental risks associated with a digester located at a food processing park that sits above an aquifer.

Experts have told Masse, he said, that whey needs to be mixed with animal waste to be properly digested and any company proposing such a project would have to prove it could be done in a safe manner.

"We never got far enough along with any of the digester companies to have this conversation with them in depth or with our board," Masse said. "That issue would have to be discussed at length if any company wished to use animal waste in their process, and our board would have to approve it."

One local farmer has contacted Alpina about obtaining whey to mix with cattle feed, Parkhurst said. The farmer said he checked with Cargill, which provided him with a formula for mixing whey with his feed and now he would like to find out how to get his hands on some Alpina whey.

"That's just one farmer and he's not capable of taking on the whole thing," Parkhurst said. "But if it helps his business and it helps our business at least some, I would be more than happy to participate."

Alpina is actively exploring all options for whey waste, Parkhurst said, looking for the most economically sensible and environmentally sound solution.

"We've even worked a little bit with RIT and GCC," Parkhurst said. "There is money floating around to help research any practical application."

A local operation that may be able to take on all of Alpina's whey waste is Baskin Livestock.

Baskin, as we've reported before, specializes in taking food company waste and converting it into cattle feed.

Bill Baskin is eager to explore a partnership with Alpina to bring whey waste to his plant on Creek Road in Bethany. 

"We work with food producers all over the Northeast to get rid of their waste," Baskin said. "There’s no reason we can't do it right in our own back yard."

With any food production, there is a substantial amount of waste -- batches get mixed wrong, products are spilled or spoiled or unsold product goes bad. Baskin takes all that waste, dries, grinds it and turns it into cattle feed.

Quaker-Muller is already sending some of its product waste to Baskin, but the way the plant will make yogurt -- the Quaker-Muller plant officially opens Monday -- there is no whey waste.

"Our yogurt is consistently high quality because we add milk protein from strained milk to our yogurt to deliver the same delicious texture and taste every time," said Scott Gilmore, spokesman for PepsiCo.

Until recently, Baskin and Parkhurst hadn't spoken, but yesterday, Baskin's director of business development, Peter Klaich, met briefly with Parkhurst and Parkhurst said he's certainly interested in learning more about how Baskin can help with whey waste.

Parkhurst is proud that Alpina buys almost all of its raw ingredients from farmers in Genesee County and WNY. The potential of working with Baskin fits right in with that philosophy, Parkhurst said.

"We're always interested in working with local companies," Parkhurst said.

Saturday, April 20, 2013 at 5:56 pm

Photo: Earth Day clean up in Oakfield

post by Howard Owens in Earth Day, environment, Oakfield

Samantha Pangrazio pulls a bag of garbage from under a tree off Albion Road, in Oakfield.

Pangrazio, along with Jacqualine Chamberlain (pictured) and Debbie Martin, were on Albion Road this morning picking up trash and litter as part of a community Earth Day clean up. More than a dozen other volunteers participated.

This is the fourth year for the event, which Pangrazio started her sophomore year in high school.

"As a kid I grew up out in the middle of nowhere and I saw how people always threw garbage around and it really bothered me," Pangrazio said. "My mom would take us out and we would clean up the garbage. I thought it was something other people don't really think about, so I wanted to raise awareness about how gross some people can be."

This year's sponsors were: Genesee County Roofing, Lamb Farms, Loraine's Day Care, Caryville Inn, Alli's Cones & Dogs, Santino's Pizza and Becky's Treasures and Crafts.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Significant cost expected to clean up former metal recycling facility on Bank Street

post by Howard Owens in batavia, business, environment

The cost will be significant to clean up a former industrial property at 301 Bank St., Batavia, but it will be the state that picks up the bill, the City Council learned Monday night.

Some 4,000 tons of solid waste needs to be removed and another 20,000 tons of contaminated soil must be dug out and trucked to Texas for incineration.

The current owner of the property, Batavia Waste Material Co., Inc., went into bankruptcy in the mid-1990s. The city could have filed a tax-lien foreclosure in 1999, but the risk was the city would take on the responsibility for clean up of any contamination.

For more than 50 years, the property was used as an iron and metal recycling facility, so the possibility of contamination seemed likely.

"From a city perspective, the situation first involved a Hobson's Choice," said City Attorney George Van Nest. "What do you do? Do you foreclose and maintain municipal ownership, or do you leave it alone for the next 100 years."

The city found a middle way in the early 2000s -- apply for a state grant to hire a consultant to do an environmental assessment and come up with a plan for cleanup. 

Working with the Department of Environmental Conservation, the city hired GZA GeoEnvironmental of New York, based in Buffalo, to take on the study and develop the plan.

It's been a slow process, at a cost of more than $200,000 (city share, 10 percent) because DEC officials have had to approve it each step along the way.

Fieldwork was conducted between January 2006 and December 2010. There were 22 test pits dug, 50 soil probes, seven monitoring wells sunk and some 130 soil, sediment, surface water and groundwater samples collected.

The result -- some significant contamination on some portion of the property, including lead and PCB.

Already, some 40 tons of soil laced with PCB and pesticides have been removed and incinerated in Texas, just to take care of the most pressing issues.

Now the DEC is considering a full-on cleanup and will hold a public meeting at 6:30 p.m., March 20, to present its findings and gather public input. A final "record of decision" will be released March 31.

The cleanup, called remediation, is expected to take as long as 10 years, but when completed, the city will be able to finally foreclose on the property -- valued at about $190,000 -- and then sell it to the highest bidder. CORRECTION: The entire prodcess, starting in 2004, is a 10-year process, so officials expect completion in 2014.

The property is zoned for residential development.

As for who pays for the cleanup, the DEC will use money from the state's Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Site Superfund, a pot of money collected from fines and fees paid by polluters. 

Part of the Superfund process for a site cleanup is identifying a "responsible party" who will then be billed to remediate the current site.

"This is the best case, because we don't have to take over the property and be responsible for the cleanup and assume the cost of the cleanup," City Manager Jason Molino said. "In time, we can turn it into residential property."

Top photo: Chris Baron, consultant with GZA GeoEnvironmental.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Fuel storage tanks being removed, but no leakage into the Tonawanda suspected

post by Howard Owens in batavia, 7-Eleven, business, environment, Tonawanda Creek

Yesterday work crews started removing the fuel pumps and fuel tanks from the Wilson Farms location at 355 W. Main St., Batavia.

While people have told us the tanks needed to be removed because they were leaking fuel into the Tonawanda Creek, information obtained from the DEC indicates that's just not the case.

While there is some localized soil contamination, which the DEC is supervising for remedial clean up, the leak is contained to the property.

The property owner is listed as Sugar Creek Stores. Both Wilson Farms and Sugar Creek were sold to 7-Eleven early last year.

Earlier this year, 7-Eleven announced it was selling two Wilson Farms stores in Batavia. Industry reports at the time indicated 7-Eleven was not interested in locations that sell gas, but 7-Eleven recently rebranded the former Wilson Farms location in Oakfield.

While a source tells us the property owner plans to discontinue gas sales at the West Main Street location in the city, we've not yet been able to confirm that with a company representative.

The property is .35 acres and stretches from the shared property line with Settler's west toward Lambert's Design Jewelers, with a length of green space in between the buildings.

Fuel tank removal is expected to take another week or two.

UPDATE: A spokeswoman for 7-Eleven said the property is on the company's "divestiture list." It will be sold.

Saturday, October 27, 2012 at 10:34 am

DEC: Low water levels will impact waterfowl hunters

post by Howard Owens in environment, outhdoors, weather

Press release:

Western New York waterfowl hunting season opening Saturday, October 27, will likely be affected by the widespread reduced precipitation from last summer’s hot and dry weather, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced today. These conditions caused water levels to drop substantially in many wetlands and dried up other wetland areas. Recent rains have improved conditions; however water levels remain lower than normal. It is important for waterfowl hunters to scout potential hunting sites when making plans.

DEC Region 8 contains the state’s premiere waterfowl hunting areas in the form of the managed marshes at Iroquois and Montezuma National Wildlife Refuges and Northern Montezuma, Oak Orchard and Tonawanda Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs).

The dry wetland conditions are particularly pronounced at the Iroquois WMA. In addition to some intentional drawdowns of impoundments to stimulate the growth of seed-producing annual plants preferred by waterfowl, the drought caused some additional units to go dry and the remainder to drop well below normal levels. The lack of rain also meant that there was no moving water to reflood the intentionally drained units. Several units are still mostly dry and all are below normal; many are one foot lower than usual. The number of permits issued was reduced by 20 percent for opening weekend at Tonawanda WMA due to lack of water in some impoundments.

The situation is less severe at Northern Montezuma WMA, where some wetland units dropped water levels significantly, but none went completely dry. Water levels in the Seneca River, Barge Canal and Crusoe Creek are lower than normal, but will support waterfowl and public access. Half of the managed marshes contain water levels suitable for hunting waterfowl, and in all sites, the production of seed-bearing annual plants is exceptional.

This year, for the first time in many years, the main impoundment at Conesus Inlet WMA was drained to regenerate the marsh vegetation. A normal year of precipitation would have made it difficult to keep the unit drained as there is a decent sized stream that flows through the marsh. The dry weather this year stopped that flow and allowed a complete drawdown. The unit is now reflooded to about half the normal depth where it will be held it until next year to allow the vegetation to fully rebound.

Overall, the waters in the marshes are more than enough to hold ducks and the extra vegetation and seeds produced due to the low waters will attract and hold birds. The biggest impact will be to hunters who usually access the marshes in boats. The low waters may make it impossible to float a boat, and will require wading to access the more remote locations. The increased vegetation may also make it a bit more difficult to find any downed birds.

Friday, October 19, 2012 at 3:04 pm

No wells proposed, but Stafford puts a temporary block on hydrofracking in the town

There are no known plans to open a hydrofracked gas well within the town limits of Stafford, but Jim Southall thought it a good idea to purchase an "insurance policy" so to speak.

At his suggest, the town board has passed a one-year moratorium on hydrofracking within Stafford.

A committee has been appointed to study the issue, according to Supervisor Robert Clement and that report will help the town determine what, if anything, it might do next related to hydrofracking.

The moritorium is part of a statewide trend over the summer of local officials throughout New York rising up against hydrofracking, even though the state already has a four-year moratorium against new wells in place now.

Fracking involves injecting water, saline and other chemicals into shale to break loose natural gas deposits that can then be extracted from the ground.

It's controversial because opponents believe the chemicals used can be carcinogenic and toxic.

Southall said he's read of cows in West Virginia being born with deformities and a whole town in Wyoming had to be closed because of hydrofracking pollutants ruining the groundwater.

As a representative of the Genesee County Fish and Game Association, owners and operators of Godfrey's Pond in Stafford, Southall thought it important to get out in front of the issue, before hydrofracking came to the area.

"With the kind of chemicals they're using, once the water is polluted, it's gone, and being a conservation club, we want to be sure that doesn't happen," Southall said.

At a public hearing on the topic a month or so ago, Clement said, there were no speakers in favor or against the moratorium.

He's not aware of any fracked wells in Stafford or any requests to open up such a well.

"For most people, I think it's a non-issue," Clement said. "I think the state will step in before anybody else does. But it's a conservation issue and I think most of them (Genesee County Fish and Game) are against it."

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