By James Hufnagel
Governor Andrew Cuomo, by loudly and publicly demanding that the July 29 discharge of black, smelly wastewater into the area surrounding the Maid of the Mist dock be promptly and thoroughly investigated by his State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), is engaging in a blatant 180-degree flip-flop deserving of a collective smirk and eye-roll from all who care about our local natural and tourism resources.
That’s because, just a few years ago, Gov. Cuomo was the driving force behind a stealth effort by state agencies and the Niagara Falls Water Board to import millions of gallons of frackwater from the drilling rigs of Pennsylvania for treatment and dumping into the Niagara River.
“Any violations of the state’s water quality standards are a serious issue, and I have directed DEC to immediately get to the bottom of why this event occurred and ensure steps are taken to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” the governor stated in a press release dated two days after the recent crisis, well after the black slick had dissipated and there was little or no trace of it.
“Niagara Falls and the Niagara River are a world-class destination for tourists and we should not be polluting this unparalleled natural resource,” he added.
That’s a different song and dance on Gov. Cuomo’s part towards our abundant local freshwater natural resources, which support an regional economy worth $5.8 trillion and around 46 million jobs, according to data presented at the Council of the Great Lakes Region Economic Forum in 2017.
When compared to what he tried to inflict on us back in the heyday of the fracking boom, that is.
The Niagara Falls Reporter broke the story in July, 2011 of Gov. Cuomo’s plans to bring here, by truck and/or train, hundreds of tons daily of the toxic frackwater for processing at the Buffalo Avenue water treatment facility.
The first clue came from the April 28, 2011 minutes of the monthly meeting of the Water Board, which documented the “Notification of contract extension with E3 Communications for hauled waste public relations work.” Then the June 23 minutes recorded the issuance of a Request for Proposals (RFP) for “Hauled Waste Communications/PR Work.” “Hauled waste” is an industry euphemism for frackwater.
That RFP listed some of the apparently retroactive requirements for the winning firm, E3: “Conduct strategic planning meetings and communications related to government affairs and advocacy activities to build … public opinion support of (the frack water disposal) initiative,” and asks them to “please provide evidence of proven results for strategic initiatives similar to the sensitive work the NFWB is currently exploring.”
Then the Reporter received an tip from a state government insider that then-Water Board Executive Director Paul Drof had made a trip to Albany to finalize the frackwater scheme with key members of the Cuomo administration. It turned out, and as we subsequently reported, Mr. Drof had made several of these trips for the same purpose.
Eventually, the Niagara Falls City Council banned the “”storage, transfer, treatment or disposal of natural gas exploration and production wastes” within city limits, and the threat was lifted.
The major difference between the smelly effluent smothering the Maid boat two weeks ago and Gov. Cuomo’s frack program, is that the unsightly “black water” discharge dispersed in a matter of hours, while the frackwater, which contains both carcinogenic and radioactive components impervious to “treatment,” would have contaminated the drinking water of millions of people, from Lewiston and Toronto to Montreal and everywhere in between.
While the damage from the black water spill was temporary and mostly in terms of our public image, the frackwater poisoning of the river and Great Lakes may have lasted forever. That would make Gov. Cuomo’s positions all the more puzzling, were they not taken in the context of his reputation as a conniving, calculating politician, more self-serving than most.
Then there’s the violation of the federal Clean Water Act that was perpetrated by Gov. Cuomo’s State Parks agency as they bulldozed an earthen dam over a tributary of the Niagara River without the proper permits, in their rush to level and pave Three Sisters Islands pursuant to the governor’s Niagara Falls State Park “Landscape Improvements” plan.
Not to mention that the Cuomo administration has hardly lifted a finger to fight blue green algae, which has invaded New York State with a vengeance. Over 60 lakes and ponds have been identified as being infested with the invasive species, which is actually a bacteria, not an algae. The blight can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea; skin, eye and throat irritation, allergic reactions and trouble breathing, and is fostered by nutrient availability and warming temperatures.
The blue green algae doesn’t, however, lend itself to bold and resolute action in response to shocking photos and national publicity, and so is of little use to politicians like Gov. Cuomo.