NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. -- It's an incident that's grabbed international headlines and Thursday, for the first time since sewage was released into the lower Niagara River on Saturday, the Niagara Falls Water Board finally answered some questions.
It took five days for the Chairman of the Niagara Falls Water Board to face the media following Saturday's sewage incident.
"I want to express my personal apology, um, in that for the full board and for its inconvenience in alarming that's caused by the recent discharge of the inky black water in the lower Niagara River," Chairman Dan O'Callaghan said.
O’Callaghan, who was appointed by the Mayor, explained that the black discharge was released during an upgrade at the wastewater treatment plant. As part of the upgrade, he says it was necessary to empty the sediment tank. He says carbon filters cause turn the backwash black, and that this is normal.
Then, he offered possible causes for the sludge release.
"It is clear to us that as a result of a possibly human error, the possible mechanical malfunction, a large quantity of water from the sediment tank was released into the Niagara River," said O’Callaghan.
Then, O'Callaghan announced he wouldn't be taking questions, but that wasn't going to stop 2 On Your Side's Dave McKinley.
"How much of this was human error?" asked McKinley.
"We have no, at this time, we don't know," said O’Callaghan.
"You don't know how much was human error?" asked McKinley.
“No. We are not sure if it was human error, like I said there, if it was human error or mechanical," said O’Callaghan.
"Did you have sufficiently trained personnel on duty at the time?" asked McKinley.
“At the present time, I can't answer those questions," said O’Callaghan.
McKinley had more questions, but O'Callaghan quickly put an end to the press conference.
"That's it for the questions," said O’Callaghan.
"Dan, can you tell me if they were trainees that were operating?" asked McKinley.
We spoke with State Senator Robert Ortt after the press conference.
"What's your reaction to them not answering all of the questions?" asked 2 On Your Side’s Kelly Dudzik.
"Well, the reaction I have is clearly they still don't get it," Ortt said. "The real issue clearly here is that's making people upset, and the reason the story's not going away, and the reason more elected leaders have come out against it is because the way they're handling, it's really 101 it could be an example of how not to handle a crisi."
Ortt says in order to make sure something like this doesn't happen again, he's ready to take action in the Senate.
"The Executive Director needs to answer some tough questions," he said. "As does the Chairman of the Board. And if we don't get those answers, and depending on what happens with the DEC investigation, then I'm prepared to call a hearing, a Senate, hopefully a joint legislative and Senator hearing.
"If we have to do just Senate, we'll do that, but a hearing we'll do it right here or maybe we'll drag it down to Albany, but we'll get the answers. I can promise you that."
Next week, the Niagara County legislature will consider resolutions demanding the Water Board and management resign and it will ask the state to launch a criminal investigation. Those resolutions are non-binding.
As for the results of the DEC's investigation, there is no time frame.
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