BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – A contractor has been selected to begin cleaning up a nuclear waste site in Lewiston that stores residue from the Manhattan Project, which helped develop the atomic bomb nearly 80 years ago.

The Buffalo District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it awarded a $40 million contract to Enviro-Fix Solutions for the removal and off-site disposal of what it described as low-level radioactive material at a plot of land known as the Niagara Falls Storage Site.

“People should be excited that we’re cleaning up this area – and have the funding to do so,” said Amy Gaskill, a spokesperson for the Army Corps of Engineers. “We’re excited to have this taken care of after all these years. We’re going to do this in a way that is safe.”

Full remediation of the 191-acre storage site on Pletcher Road is projected to take decades and cost millions of additional dollars. The Army Corps of Engineers believes the site will be suitable for industrial use when the project is completed.

The work for Phase 1, which was approved this month, involves removing 6,000 cubic yards of soil and 4,000 gallons of groundwater from the site, per Army Corps figures. Removing radioactive waste from the Interim Waste Containment Structure (IWCS), an underground vault that stores over 250,000 cubic yards of waste and residue, is reserved for Phases 2 and 3 of the project, which won’t be completed until at least the late 2030s. Where the waste will be moved to has not yet been determined by the contractor.

An outline of the 191-acre Niagara Falls Storage Site in Lewiston, via the Army Corps of Engineers. The IWCS is shown in the lower left corner.

Enviro-Fix Solutions is expected to complete its work plan by this fall, and a public information session is planned for February. The work is scheduled to begin next spring and be completed by fall 2024.

The Niagara Falls Storage Site was used by the Manhattan Engineer District to store radioactive residues and wastes from uranium ore processing beginning in 1944, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. Radioactive wastes and residues continued to be brought to the site for storage until 1952. Initial cleanup and consolidation began in 1986.

While further cleanup of the site has been discussed for years, Gaskill said the summer box-office hit “Oppenheimer” — the Christopher Nolan movie about Manhattan Project director J. Robert Oppenheimer — is renewing public focus on the World War II-era project and how its impact is still being felt locally today. Increased awareness could also lead to greater turnout at the public information session in February.

“That movie is raising people’s awareness of what took place there,” she said. “We already planned on holding public meetings to be transparent. It’s important people understand we are keeping them in mind.”

The Niagara Falls Storage Site sits roughly a mile and a half east of the Lewiston Porter schools. Gaskill said regular testing is done to ensure there is no concern of contamination at the school.

“We are working very closely with the school district to make sure they are well informed,” Gaskill said. “They are one of our key stakeholders.”

The Niagara Falls Storage Site is one of four Western New York locations listed by the government under the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP). Per the Army Corps of Engineers, “FUSRAP was initiated in 1974 to identify, investigate and, if necessary, clean up or control sites throughout the United States contaminated as a result of Manhattan Engineer District (MED) or early Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) activities.”

The other local FUSRAP sites are Guterl Specialty Steel in Lockport, Seaway Industrial Park in Tonawanda and the Tonawanda Landfill. Other sites have been deemed completed and transferred back to the Department of Energy for long-term stewardship. More info on FUSRAP sites can be found here.

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Nick Veronica is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as the Digital Executive Producer in 2021. He previously worked at NBC Sports and The Buffalo News. You can follow Nick on Facebook, Twitter and Threads. See more of his work here.