The Center for Sustainable Rural Communities recently sent a letter to the Town of Richmondville advising them of information obtained from the public record that indicates a potential link between contamination at a superfund site in Connecticut and the former Kivort Steel facility in Warnerville. Additionally, we reported statements made by Town officials regarding the site which suggests possible anecdotal knowledge and community concern about environmental issues at the site. We provided that information, which included a specific EPA Identification number, to ensure that the Town had all available information as they consider a request for a new junk yard permit for the site and a development plan, as is required under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). We were very clear that we had no first-hand knowledge of environmental issues at the site, nor were we alleging such issues, but were simply reporting information that we were aware of and should, as a matter of due diligence, be investigated.
The reaction we received was both surprising and concerning. The Town’s Code Enforcement Officer said he was unable to find the information we submitted, the developer’s representative indicated in an email (obtained under FOIL) that she looked for hours and was unable to find the information and the Times-Journal ran an editorial calling our letter a “stink bomb” and a “scare tactic.” This is particularly odd given that a simple Internet search returns the same information we provided in less than 30 seconds, a 2 minute conversation with the Town of Richmondville Planning Board members could verify previous statements they made about the site, and a ten minute phone call to the EPA could validate the information provided by us regarding the superfund site.
In a 2008 letter to the Schoharie County Planning and Development Agency (also obtained under FOIL), a Senior Attorney for the NY State Department of State notes that complaints regarding junk yards (which the Kivort site was and is proposed to be again) “should be taken seriously and investigated. Once the municipality is on notice of a potential violation, a duty might very well exist to investigate it, whether or not the complainant has been identified.”
So why would those in receipt of the information not be willing to take a few minutes to verify it? We can only guess that having no information is preferable to having information that requires them to actually do something. If ignorance is bliss, there are some folks in our community, including public officials, who prefer to remain eternally blissful.
Center for Sustainable Rural Communities