NIAGARA COUNTY -- If you're looking for World War II artifacts, you won't find many of them anymore on the rural stretch of Pletcher Road, which splits through the towns of Porter and Lewiston on the edge of the Niagara River.
These days, the road passes through a line of homes, fields and a campground, none of which seem very out of the ordinary.
Seventy-five years ago, however, as the United States prepared for war, Pletcher Road would have taken you right through the Lake Ontario Ordnance Works (LOOW) site, which manufactured TNT as a part of the Manhattan Project to develop nuclear weapons. In 1942, this 7,500-acre site included a hospital, a power plant, a storage area and a fire department, surrounded by an enormous buffer zone for protection.
But even as the site transformed from an active wartime hub into the quiet, rural area you see today, the remnants of World War II weren't erased entirely.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in fact, has identified high levels of TNT and lead in the soil on a specific three-acre plot within the LOOW site. The contaminants still exist to this day.
The government does not consider the contaminated soil a direct or immediate threat -- but the public health risk is significant enough that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has proposed a plan to get rid of the material entirely. Starting as early as next year, the government hopes to dig up the TNT and lead, remove it from the site and send it to a certified disposal facility.
That's the most cost-effective strategy, said Brent LaSpada, the project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In fact, the project will cost fewer than $1 million, much cheaper than some of the other alternative options investigated by the agency.
"This process and this program, you look at it from a nationwide perspective, we've been hunting down these sites," LaSpada said. "It's time to get it cleaned out."
Thomas John Hulligan, who has lived on Pletcher Road since 1998, said the U.S. Army Corps' proposal has been long overdue. Hulligan and his neighbors have often worried about the impact of their property values, not to mention the proximity of the Lew-Port School District to the former LOOW site.
"This has been ongoing for an awful long time," Hulligan said. "It shouldn't be anywhere near a population."
Joseph Gardella, a professor of chemistry at the University at Buffalo and the co-chair of the Community Advisory Council for the LOOW site, praised the government for proposing a common sense plan.
"It's not rocket science," Gardella said. "There's a problem, and one way to take care of it is to excavate it and get it out."
LaSpada said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hopes to break ground on the project in 2018 before closing the site officially by 2019.
The timeline remains subject to change, however, since the public comment period is still open.
"This community wants the pollution out. They would like to grow housing, grow tourism," Gardella said. "And getting these artifacts from World War II out of here is a big deal."
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