Let’s Fight the Forces of Hell!

Dear Islanders;

Gehenna is the name of a place south of Jerusalem. According to the Old Testament, it was once the scene of Moloch worship. Moloch is an ancient pagan God in the shape of a bull. Historical evidence indicates that children were sacrificed to this false God by its followers. When the followers of this pagan God fell, Gehenna became a garbage dump full of smoldering fires and corpses. Thus, Gehenna—the garbage dump of Jerusalem—became synonymous for the word ‘hell’ in the New Testament.

Now that I cheered you up, let me talk more about garbage and pollution. We need to face the facts, folks. Our precious Island is besieged on its North and South by two massive piles of “hell,” or garbage. Love Canal—the scene of one of the worst incidents of environmental crime in our nation’s history—is also across the way. And then there are the factories, the bridge traffic, and of course the infamous Tonawanda Coke.

Tonawanda Coke committed criminal acts

Tonawanda Coke committed criminal acts that put our lives at risk. Specifically, Tonawanda Coke reported Benzene emissions (nasty stuff, look it up) of 3 tons per year from 2007 to 2009. The problem is they actually were emitting 91 tons per year! And worse yet, that benzene was floating all over Tonawanda and indeed, Grand Island.

The only reason we know any of this is because some local citizens started doing backyard testing using homemade kits made out of buckets. Jackie James-Creedon—the Erin Brockovich of Tonawanda—led this movement after she was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. She knew there was something funny in the air, and she put an end to it. Today, Tonawanda Coke is facing millions in criminal and civil fines and penalties. And the DEC (and folks like Jackie) are watching them like a hawk. Recent testing indicates that emission numbers are down 86% at Tonawanda Coke.

But what about pollution from the bridges and other polluters?  And what if Tonawanda Coke slips up? That’s why I’m bringing up air quality issues. We need to remain vigilant. And I have some ideas on how we can do that.

I’m going to fight for some of that Tonawanda Coke cash

Some of the money that Tonawanda Coke has to pay is going to go to communities affected by their wrong doing. I heard some people say, “This McMurray dope does not know which way the wind blows—literally!” Well, I sort of do. And yes, the wind usually blows away from GI. But there is a phenomenon known as “inversion” where the wind reverses and hits the South part of the island in high concentrations. Please remember, the smoking gun against Tonawanda Coke was based, in part, on evidence collected at Beaver Island! So we were affected. And I’m going to make sure we get some of the compensation.

I would like to place an air monitor in Kaegebein School

I have been in discussions with the University of Buffalo on this subject. And UB has informed me that they have an air monitoring system (worth tens of thousands of dollars) that they will donate (free) to the Town of Grand Island. All we have to do is calibrate it, which costs a few thousand dollars. And I have been in discussions with our county-level leadership, and they hope to provide that money. If everything works out, I want to place this in-door monitoring device in Kaegebein (recommended to me as the ideal spot) as an extra line of protection for our kids—subject to the approval of all stakeholders.  

Work with UB on their study

The University of Buffalo is also going to start a study using a portion of the money that Tonawanda Coke must pay. I am going to strongly encourage you to participate in this study—information is power. It’s better to understand the challenges we face than live in denial about them. And I am hoping to be able to provide space at Town Hall for UB to conduct their research on a part-time basis. By the way, you can actually take part in a different study right now regarding public health. Go to http://bit.ly/1t7IDti to take the survey.

Start the “Bucket Brigade” on GI

Remember my talk about the Grand Island Guardians? It is a group that’s going to meet together to clean up the Boulevard now and then—pick up garbage, plant trees, etc. I’m also going to invite Jackie James-Creedon to work with us on our own Bucket Brigade! It might take years for us to get a full-fledged monitor for the Island. Speaking of hell, getting through the layers of bureaucratic red tape for us to have an air monitoring system (like so many other communities have) is like going through the nine circles of Dante’s inferno. But this is the DIY era. If the government can’t help us, we can help ourselves. Let’s arm the pollution prevention watchtower with home-made detection kits. Please contact Cyndy at 773-9600 x658 or cmontana@grand-island.ny.us to join the Grand Island Guardians.

Let’s get the full-fledged monitor in place

I understand things are better. But what about the next Tonawanda Coke case? Or the next? Or the next one after that? We need to arm ourselves against the forces of “hell”. Look, I’m no environmental extremist. But I do believe humans can damage the earth. And the arguments about hurting property values don’t convince me. Denial does not get you very far when you smell something crossing the bridge or stare out at the smoke stacks. The cat is already out of the bag. Action, facts and safeguards is what will protect our property values (and our lives!) long term.

I’ve been to places (once beautiful) that have been forever destroyed by lack of environmental stewardship. Here, (despite the legacy of environmental disaster), we can turn a blind eye to the dangers around us because we can’t see them so easily.  But in places I’ve seen overseas—where, like Gehenna itself, miles of smoldering garbage lie under skies of black plastic bags swirling like ravens—it’s not so easy to ignore.

I never want to see a day where people on Grand Island go to work with masks like I once did in China. Nor should we repeat the pasts of Western New York’s tendency to sacrifice our health and well-being to the unquestionable interests of industrial titans. Finally, I want us to be in a position to come down like Thor’s hammer with a thunderclap of lawsuits on anyone who illegally harms our health. To accomplish this, we need that monitor. We need evidence.  

Before I go, a few updates

1.    The Roundabout facelift is complete!  Next year, we will work on some additional touches. Of course there is always more that needs to be done— the roads need paving, etc. But stay tuned on that folks. Bit by bit, step by step we are making Grand Island better. Please note; I know the trees are small, but those White Oaks are no ordinary trees. Long-term commitment is always better than the fast flash. It will take a few years, but it already looks great. And as they grow, steady and strong, hopefully our children and our grandchildren will grow strong alongside them.

2.    We have gone through the process of selecting a law firm. The Town Board chose to appoint the same firm we have had for almost two decades—Hodgson Russ. It was a great opportunity to look at other options though. In the end I recused myself from the vote (I know a lot of the lawyers personally and some from the firms interviewed) and the Town Board voted for Hodgson Russ 4-0.  The Town Board members cited two main reasons for their choice: the current firm’s history of serving the town and my efforts to rein in costs.  Although no big change occurred, I think it was a productive process and one I will repeat each year hereafter to demand continued accountability.

3.    We also chose a firm to create our new town website. The firm—Revize—is nationally respected and has created websites for major municipalities across North America. And they were able to do the work within our tiny budget!  The new site will look open, be easy to use, and will be full of information about our beautiful town—including SMS updates for important town matters.

4.    One more thing: everyone knows about the guy with a gun who raced away from the cops, over the bridge and ended up in a foot chase on Grand Island. First, if you did not receive a “Reverse 911” its most likely because the county determined the matter was resolved before the need for an emergency notification could be sent from Buffalo—thank you officers! Secondly, you may think it crass of me to bring it up, but that incident is a current, real life example of why those tolls do not protect anyone. They tax us. What kind of a security guard accepts a dollar to let you in? Let’s not pretend that a tax makes our community special. It just makes us more taxed.  

With warmest regards,

Nate

-as first appeared in the Island Dispatch