GHENT–Town Attorney Ted Guterman read a statement at the Town Board’s May meeting responding to claims that town officials knew before a massive August 1, 2013 fire that sodium, an potentially explosive material, was stored at the West Ghent facility operated by TCI of NY. Mr. Guterman’s statement and subsequent responses by TCI are part of the ongoing debate over whether the company should be allowed to rebuild its recycling business after the facility was leveled by explosions and fire last summer.
The most recent exchange involves an incident that occurred than six months before the August fire that destroyed the TCI facility and triggered a state of emergency throughout the county. An earlier, smaller blaze happened in a truck trailer parked outside the TCI building and a state investigation report of that January 2012 fire, recently uncovered by Ghent resident Patti Matheney, indicated the blaze may have been caused by sodium, the same material believed to have played a role in the larger August fire.
Sodium, a metal that reacts violently with water, was used by Power Substation Services (PSS), an independent contractor working at the TCI facility. PSS used the sodium to remove hazardous industrial chemicals called PCBs from oil drained out of old electrical transformers. Since the August fire, TCI has severed its ties with PSS. TCI has also sought permits from the town to rebuild and resume its business of preparing electrical transformers for recycling.
The documents obtained by Ms. Matheny indicate that copies of state report on the January fire were sent to West Ghent Fire Chief Jim Cesternino as well as State Police Investigator William Mulrein and Jim Van Deusen, the county fire coordinator at the time. The report on the January fire says that the evidence suggests sodium being used by PSS could have caused the fire in the truck trailer.
As the part of the process of reviewing TCI’s application to rebuild, some town officials have asked why TCI did not notify the town about the work being done by the subcontractor PSS and its use of sodium. But in a statement from TCI dated May 9, the company says that the report on the January fire investigation “makes clear Town Officials had full knowledge of our operations, including the presence of sodium and of the independent contractor PSS on our site, which we disclosed prior to August 1, 2012.”
It apparently was that statement that led Mr. Guterman at the May 16 Town Board meeting to call TCI’s comments, reported in the Hudson newspaper the Register-Star, false, adding, “the report was not distributed to any official in the Town of Ghent.”
Further, Mr. Guterman’s statement claimed that TCI misled the town when TCI representatives appeared before the Town’s Planning Board just before the August fire. “A representative speaking for TCI told the Planning Board members that there was nothing new going on at the site,” stated Mr. Guterman. “This was a false misrepresentation,” he said.
Mr. Guterman concluded his statement by saying, “It should be made clear that before the August 2012 fire, the Town of Ghent had no knowledge of the PSS operation at the site or the presence of any quantities of sodium. Further, at no time did TCI inform the Town about any of the additional uses going on at the site prior to the August 2012 fire as they were required to do under both Federal regulations and under the Ghent Town Code.”
TCI responded to Mr. Guterman’s comments with a new set of comments of its own, saying in a May 17 statement, “in his confusion over the facts over TCI, Mr. Guterman only creates more confusion.”
According to TCI, Mr. Guterman “says that the West Ghent fire chief received a fire report, but that no town official received the report. This is splitting hairs. The West Ghent Fire Company may be a private company, but it surely represents the town’s interests in these matters in an official capacity.”
TCI’s statement goes on to ask, “if the town was unaware of [the fire report], why was there a communication breakdown?”
When asked by the Columbia Paper during a phone call this week if the town normally receives fire reports from fire companies, town Supervisor Larry Andrews said that would be “very unusual.”
TCI also responded to Mr. Guterman’s statement that TCI failed to meet federal and town requirements to notify the Town of any additional uses by saying, “sodium is not a regulated material and there are no federal requirements to notify the town of its use, nor are there town requirements concerning sodium.”