Seneca Nation Treasurer Maurice John

Seneca Nation Treasurer Maurice John thanks Cattaraugus County lawmakers Wednesday for backing the Senecas in their opposition to a fracking waste treatment plant that would empty into the Allegheny River in Coudersport, Pa.

LITTLE VALLEY — Seneca Nation Treasurer Maurice John thanked Cattaraugus County lawmakers for their support in joining the Senecas in opposition to a Coudersport, Pa., fracking waste treatment plant that would discharge water into the Allegheny River.

Speaking in the County Legislature chambers Wednesday, John said the Seneca Nation and the county have worked together in the past. This has “given us a chance to work together again. This is very important to both of us.”

The Seneca treasurer said there are concerns that the 43,000 gallons of treated water that would be discharged every day into the headwaters of the Ohi:yo’, the Seneca name for the Allegheny, would include radioactive nuclides. It would settle into the sediment of the Allegheny River basin where the Senecas fish.

The river flows through the southern part of Cattaraugus County including Portville, Olean, Allegany, the Senecas’ Allegany Territory and Salamanca. John said the county and Seneca Nation could not afford to “allow the headwaters of the Ohi:yo’” to be polluted.

Tina Abrams, a member of the Seneca Tribal Council and a longtime member of the Cattaraugus County Planning Board, said the Nation learned of plans for the Coudersport fracking waste treatment plant through social media.

On short notice, the Seneca Nation Watershed Working Group came together to research the treatment process Epiphany Allegheny LLC was proposing to install near Coudersport. Seneca President Todd Gates also called on experts about the potential impact on the river of discharge from the plant.

“This technology has not been thoroughly tested,” Abrams said. “It’s new technology that hasn’t been proven yet.”

The county Planning Board passed a resolution in January opposing the fracking waste treatment plant because of its potential impact on the river. The state Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are among the agencies calling for Pennsylvania officials to deny the permit.

Epiphany Allegany officials have said “small amounts of heavy metals and traces of radiological material removed during the chemical precipitation process will be stored in secure containers until they are prepared and shipped for disposal at a permitted landfill.”

Epiphany’s method uses two processes back-to-back to remove radium from the fracking waste. “Either one of those methods alone would be enough to reduce the radiological content in the output water to non-detectable levels, which means our output water contains far lower levels of radioactive compounds than the naturally occurring water from the springs, lakes and streams in the area,” the company states.

Shannon Seneca, a sanitarian with Seneca Nation Health Services and its director of environmental health, said the county Health Department should have been notified of the project to determine if officials there wanted to express concerns.

Seneca noted that the Epiphany Allegheny treatment plant’s discharge would not be required to meet drinking-water standards. She said while removing 90 percent to 95 percent of the radionuclides, the plant will discharge a small amount of radium.

Two of the company’s other fracking waste treatment plants failed, she said. A study showed radioactive sediment was found 25 miles downstream from the plant, Seneca said.

She suggested the fracking waste could be treated onsite and reused instead of dumping in into the headwaters of the Allegheny.

Shane Titus, Seneca Nation Allegany fisheries manager, said the radioactive isotopes that are not captured in the treatment plant will settle into the river sediment and accumulate in the ecosystem. This threatens the Seneca Nation’s fish hatchery efforts near the Red House entrance to Allegany State Park, he said.

The Nation is sponsoring a meeting on the potential impacts of the fracking waste treatment plant on the river on March 21 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Seneca Nation Administrative Offices in Jimersontown.

The resolution was introduced for immediate consideration at Wednesday’s legislature meeting by Legislature Vice Chairman Susan Labuhn and Legislator David Koch, both Salamanca Democrats.

After the Seneca officials spoke, all legislators agreed to become cosponsors of the resolution. It passed unanimously.

The resolution “strongly urges the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection not to issue a discharge permit to Epiphany Allegheny ... until such time as studies conclusively indicate there are no contaminants in the discharge.”

County Legislature Chairman James J. Snyder, R-Olean, thanked John and the other Seneca officials for speaking out on the issue.

It is in everyone’s interests to oppose the proposed treatment plant with the county advertising the Allegheny River as a tourism destination and investing in canoe and kayak launches in communities along the river, Snyder said.

(Contact reporter Rick Miller at rmiller@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)