ATTICA, NY - Officials from the state Department of Environmental Conservation were at Attica High School Thursday to talk with residents about Hillcrest Industries, the controversial recycling facility, that's been spewing smoke, ash and a foul odor for the past year.
In the household of George and Mary Carrick, who are married and live only a few blocks from Hillcrest, homemade chicken soup and polish sausage sandwiches can be a usual dinner special.
Although the Carrick's have lived in the village for 13 years, they've had thoughts of leaving the area, because of the terrible odor from the company.
"I just retired and I can't enjoy my life, I'm stuck in the house because of that smell and the soot and everything," said Mary Carrick, who has recently joined a group of residents who have agreed to sue Hillcrest and seek damages against the company.
Carrick joined dozens of residents at Attica High to question top officials of the DEC. The DEC says that it's working to make Hillcrest follow the law and get proper permitting and maintenance. The agency says that a penalty will be issued to Hillcrest and a big part of the fine will be from the glass and plastic materials that weren't allowed on site.
"There will be some sort of settlement - either a consent order or a court order and there will be a penalty. It doesn't matter that we haven't had a fine up until now, because the fine will include all of the violations," said Maureen Brady, a regional attorney for the DEC's Buffalo office.
Meantime, the agency says it's been inspecting the company as it tries to repair equipment and gets in full compliance with state and federal laws. According to the DEC, Hillcrest has made enough progress to be able to turn on its furnaces, which emit gases. One official at Thursday's meeting says that this is happening without proper testing to make sure it's safe.
2 On Your Side's Jeff Preval asked why the furnaces are operating without evidence that the furnaces are safe to run. James Strickland, a regional engineer for the DEC said, "With the improvements that they make to the bag house and the air pollution equipment they should be in compliance."
But the DEC can't be sure of this and says proper testing should be done soon. The DEC also adds that it's important for Hillcrest to make revenue so it can continue to finance repairs.
Meantime, residents like Carrick need answers from agencies, like the DEC, which are in charge. She says she feels like local and state systems of government continue to fail the community.
The DEC conceded to residents at Attica High, that Hillcrest's operation has been dangerous to the community's health, but that air testing has not shown such a conclusion.
There is no monitoring of air quality right now. Hillcrest could be back online fully by the end of the year, if it gets proper permitting and clearance from the state. The company tells the DEC that it's trying to transfer the materials that are on its property out of county so it can disposed.
Village officials shouted down DEC officials at the meeting when they didn't get straight answers. This is just one sign that the state and local authorities have not been working well together to solves issues that are important to the community.