|Water Board Executive Director Paul Drof (above) and Board Vice Chairman Renae Kimble (below)
A crime was committed at the city’s wastewater treatment plant and the Niagara Falls Water Board is investigating.
Not into who committed the crime, they apparently don’t care about that. No, the Water Board is trying to find out who blew the whistle on the criminal act.
Back in August, this newspaper ran “leaked” photographs of frack wastewater that had been brought to the city treatment plant from the natural gas fields of Pennsylvania. The Water Board stored the frack water in violation of a city ordinance banning the treatment and storage of frack water, which was passed 5-0 by the city Council last March.
Officials claimed the frack water was there for testing purposes and Niagara Falls Water Board Executive Director, Paul Drof, when confronted by fact of the Reporter’s photos, said he did not know frack water was on site.
No investigation into whether or not the law was deliberately broken ever occurred.
Still, like many things here in Niagara Falls, the episode took on a life of its own. A strange life, one full of twists and turns and a cast of characters that includes former state assembly member Francine Del Monte, former mayor Vince Anello, and retired county legislator Renae Kimble.
And Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, who howls long and hard about “green jobs” and “green technology” as being the answer to the city’s many woes, has failed to utter a syllable about the whole mess, prompting many to speculate he is secretly backing the fracking interests.
After all, it was Dyster who – with the able assistance of Del Monte – cut the deal with former North Tonawanda Mayor Larry Soos to bring Water Services Director Paul Drof on board three years ago. Cambria resident Mike McNally, who served as the Water Board chairman was appointed with Del Monte’s help and led the charge to bring Drof to the city.
At the time, McNally waxed eloquent about Drof, whom he characterized as "probably the most qualified person in the state for the water and sewer industry."
Shortly after the anti-hydrofracking ordinance was passed, McNally told the City Council they “overstepped their boundaries." He, along with board member Nicholas Marchelos of Buffalo, voted to sue the city over the ban. Their measure failed when three board members Tom Vitello, Renae Kimble and Ted Janese voted against filing the lawsuit.
Drof denied there was any frack water at the treatment plant while appearing before a State Senate committee last December, and later told the Reporter he had no idea how the hazardous (and possibly radioactive) water materialized at the treatment plant in August, five months after the law banning it was passed.
Still, he has never been shy about his enthusiasm for frack water.
“The Water Board wholly supports… the safe treatment of flowback (frack) water,” he told the senators.
Last month, Drof launched his own investigation, using taxpayer money to hire private investigators in an attempt to find out who leaked the incriminating photographs to the Reporter.
Perhaps an investigation into why a Cambria resident, McNally, a Buffalo resident, Marchelos, and a North Tonawanda resident, Drof, have been put in charge of a vital Niagara Falls city service under Dyster’s watch is warranted.
Current Water Board Chairman Ted Janese, a part-time county attorney who is reportedly planning to move out of the city and to Lewiston, explained to Channel 2 News why the whistleblower/photographer must be found.
"From our standpoint, what's important for the investigation that's ongoing now, is who was in there to take the pictures,” Janese said.
Asked why a similar investigation wasn’t taking place to find out who actually broke the law, Janese acted as though he wasn’t sure what his interlocutor was taking about.
"I don't know if it (the frack water) should have been there or not,” he said. “If you're asking about the perspective of what the city council resolution was, probably it shouldn't have been there.”
To date, Dyster has not said if he supports the treatment of frack water. Is it a stretch to think that he might also see its treatment as a potential cash cow?
Anello has been using the bully pulpit he enjoys as a morning radio talk show host in Niagara Falls to bash the Council and promote the city as a potential destination for frack water treatment.
Anello has repeatedly stated that “the verdict on fracking isn’t in,” pointing out that members of the City Council “aren’t scientists” and accusing them of “jumping the gun” in passing their anti-fracking ordinance.
Anello, who is not a scientist either, is of course entitled to his own opinion.
For her part, retired legislator and current Water Board member Renae Kimble is doing what she did often during her many years with the Legislature in Lockport – blaming state Sen. George Maziarz for the whole mess. Maziarz, she says, is the hidden hand who would like to place Niagara Falls at the disposal of the fracking interests.
Meantime there are significant annual raises in water and sewer rates.
Now, the simple act of photographing an illegal substance being stored illegally in a city facility can spark a months-long comedy of errors in which the only real losers are those who quietly go to work, pay their taxes and try to live quiet lives.
That’s how it’s been in Niagara Falls for a long time. And the way it looks, that’s how it’s going to continue to be in the foreseeable future.