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Healthy Choices for Families

Town Board Minutes 3/17/2011

Jonathan McKinney, Councilman
Denise Murphy McGraw, Councilwoman
Julie McDonnell, Councilwoman
Joe Landry, Supervisor

Liz Orzel Kasper, Councilwoman, absent

Also present: Matt Miller, Deputy Town Attorney, Peter Scagnelli, Town Attorney, John Lubrant, Chief of Police, Frank Gavin, Superintendent of Highways, Paul Sebesta, Comptroller, Richard Pollock, Superintendent of Water and Sewer, Bill Lawrence, Computer Network Coordinator and Lori Peretti, Community Programs Coordinator.


        US Department of Energy:  Steven Feinberg of the US Department of Energy, Environment Management, and the Federal Project Site Manager spoke of the Department of Energy’s efforts on the Separation Process Research Unit at Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory. His function with DOE is to make sure the resources are brought together to conduct this project safely and to be protective of human health and the environment.
        He began by pointing out the efforts of the Department of Energy in this project are to clean up several contaminated buildings and land areas at the KAPL site. It is also important to know that there are no nuclear reactors associated with this project.
        In order to provide background on the project, a brief history was provided on the KAPL/SPRU facility. At one time, it was used as a research facility to study the chemical process of plutonium extraction. When the plant was closed, the processing equipment was flushed and drained and the waste disposed off-site. There is still some residual contamination within the buildings. The SPRU has been maintained at a safe condition.
        A map was shown pointing out areas that have already undergone clean-up [the land areas where the SPRU project was completed ahead of schedule] and those areas that are now to become the main focus.
        It was explained that in the process of asbestos abatement and demolition of a building, there was a localized spread of contamination as a result of cutting open a piece of processing equipment; demolition was immediately halted. Soon after the work stoppage, some contaminated water spilled on the ground, followed by a tropical storm and a pump malfunction due to a loss of power supply. As a result, about 630 gallons of water was discharged into the Mohawk River. None of these events presented a threat to public health or the environment as they were all localized to the site and any radioactivity was minimal. Immediate actions were taken to investigate the incident and insure future safety precautions so there would be no recurrence.
        The SPRU Project Manager spoke of improvements to current operations such as implementing a hazard review process; packaging and shipping waste offsite more efficiently; a safer approach to decontamination and demolition techniques and a back-up power supply for the pumps in the event of future power loss.
        Councilwoman McDonnell thanked the panel for speaking to the public. Residents have expressed concerns over the past several months, particularly about the effects to the playing fields along River Road. Having met with the project coordinators in February, she feels good about the conservative approach to removing contamination from the site.
        Councilwoman McGraw asked the panel again about airborne radioactive contamination and to explain how this did not affect the town outside of the KAPL site. She said the public is more sensitive to this type of issue in lieu of recent events in Japan. Mr. Feinberg pointed out air flow monitors recorded an easterly wind at the time of the leakage in the direction of the Mohawk River. Furthermore, calculations were made in regards to the amount of radioactivity a person would be exposed to nearest the area and that was a very small number.
        Supervisor Landry asked Mr. Feinberg if he was comfortable with back-up systems in place to allow for future power failures and ensure that pumps or other equipment do not malfunction or fail again. The answer is significant upgrades have been made to the sump system while there is still some cleanup and maintenance work to be done on that system to enhance the reliability. There is an additional watch station to ensure the system operates properly. They have confidence in the overall system.
        Questions were opened to the public at this time.
        Tom Dunning, worked at KAPL for 33 years. Listening to the presentation, he feels the people originally working on this project were incompetent. He also stated he has a high regard for naval reactors and KAPL and doesn’t like to see either criticized.
        Jim Hunter, lives in Niskayuna and worked at KAPL for 29 years. He feels we should be working on the important problems; that this is a nickel and dime issue and doesn’t warrant our spending money. What’s going on in Japan right now is important. Nobody ever died from the type of work going on at KAPL.
        Tom Ellis, Albany, asked in the event radioactive material is released into the river for drinking water: What is the process? Who is called?   Mr. Feinberg said if that were to happen, they (the Department of Energy) would call New York State DEC, who would in turn call the Town. Mr. Ellis asked if there was any effort made to quantify the amount of radioactivity in the leakage into the river. Mr. Feinberg answered there was about 7.2 microcuries, which in perspective is less than two household smoke detectors. When asked, Mr. Feinberg did not know at this time what fraction of that was plutonium, but said he could find out.
        Will Tracy wanted to know if the raw data was available to the public that was picked up on the sensors since readings were being quoted from those sensors. Mr. Tracy was asked to leave his contact information so someone could get back to him with an answer.
        At this time, Supervisor Landry pointed out paper at the back of the room to write out questions and leave contact information with the panel for anyone not wishing to speak during the public forum.
        Robert Stater, 105 Pashley Road, Scotia, is a nuclear engineer and claims a report exists with evidence this operation is dysfunctional and beyond fixing. He says he was originally one of the people responsible for getting the SPRU underway and must now reluctantly propose that the dismantling program be terminated and a permanent seal be placed over the facility.
        Seth Hanft, town resident and involved in Niskayuna Baseball asked, when talking about surveying outside the footprint of KAPL, whether the playing fields on the east end and outside the KAPL site were surveyed? Mr. Feinberg replied there was no need to survey that area. Mr. Hanft disagreed stating that after listening to several people educated on the subject, he feels that checking the fields where children play ball is warranted for the sake of good will.
        Councilwoman McGraw followed up by asking what is involved in the survey? Mr. Feinberg said independent companies are brought in; several instruments are used; the land area is walked over where the instruments will detect if there is any contamination. Typically, DOE does not go outside their area, but Mr. Feinberg said he would look into a study being done at the ball fields through the Department of Health.
        Jack Shannon, Saratoga Springs stated he was manager of environmental and employee safety at KAPL for many years. He felt there were problems with the SPRU demolition. He said he lost his job after 30 years at KAPL after raising safety issues.
        Jerry Hausler, Niskayuna resident and a physician, feels there was a delay in notification to municipality’s water districts down river of this event and that this should be addressed.
Mr. Feinberg answered regarding the delay, the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Department of Health agree the notification should take place within two hours. In this case they were not notified until the next day.
Mr. Hausler questioned whether fines were imposed by the State. He was told there was an order on consent in terms of an environmental benefit project. The contractor will not be paid their fee but must continue the site cleanup.
It was asked if there was a benefit to completing the project early.
Part of the funding for the project was under the American Recovery for Reinvestment Act. According to the speakers, there was no incentive to completing the project by a certain date to obtain additional funding.
Elaine Klein, Rosendale Road, canoes on the Mohawk River, uses the bike trail and uses the parks along the river with her grandchildren. She is concerned about the wildlife in and along the river. Has any consideration been given to them? She is also concerned about precautions taken in transporting waste.
Low level radioactive waste is shipped via rail. An emergency number is listed on the manifest in the event of an accident. All impact calculations are done with consideration to humans and not wildlife.
Leslie Gold, Town resident, would like to see detailed information in terms that are easy to understand posted on the Town’s web site, specifically just how much radioactivity escaped and what it means to the public. She appreciates they are moving to get the project back on track as long as it is done safely.
Supervisor Landry said the Town would work with the Department of Energy to post pertinent information and update the public on the web site.
Margaret Watrous, Regent Street, wanted more specific information about the transportation. Are EMT’s and Police aware when trucks are leaving carrying waste? She is not comfortable with knowing that in the event of an accident, there is a phone number on the back of a truck to call and let someone know radioactive waste might be leaking.
She was told that it is the manifest and not the truck that has the number to call. There would be a placard on the truck identifying radioactive waste on board. The fire department is hazmat trained and know how to respond and the commercial route for these trucks are to go up Balltown Road to the nearest highway.
Judith Ruthberg, resident, asked where the radioactive waste is being shipped and was there ever consideration to cement-in the building?
The waste is being shipped to several facilities built to handle radioactive waste located in Utah, Nevada and South Carolina. Cementing the facility was considered and it was decided that it was not suitable due to the fact that the water table is very high in that area.
The panel was asked whether the employees of the contractor were protected in the event of future health problems stemming from this project.  The Department of Energy has a former atomic energy worker program that covers certain health issues. However, the workers undergo complete monitoring during the project for any radiation ingestion.
Lorene Zabin, resident, wants to know what their long-range plan is for residents and wildlife of the area. Are there any provisions for problems that might arise from this event? Will the ball fields be monitored in future years? Mr. Feinberg said that an annual report is available in the Town Library with comprehensive measurements of the water, air and often samples of the fish in the area.
Margaret Watrous, wants to see Schenectady County Hazmat brought in to train in advance in the event there is an accident on one of our secondary roads. She was told that emergency procedure drills are practiced. The panel said they would look into the frequency of those drills and see that the current SPRU project was current on procedure.
There being no further questions from the audience, the presentation came to a close.


        The following resolutions were approved with a vote of four ayes unless otherwise noted.

        Resolution 2011-55, authorizes the Supervisor to execute an addendum for the water meter installation project.

        Resolution 2011-56, employs additional persons in the Niskayuna Recreation Program.

        Resolution 2011-57, recognizes and promotes the celebration of Earth Hour on March 26, 2011.

        There being no further business to come before the Town Board, Supervisor Landry adjourned the meeting.

Matthew Miller, Deputy Town Attorney

One Niskayuna Circle, Niskayuna, NY 12309
Phone: (518) 386-4500 Fax: (518) 386-4592 | Hours: M-F 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.