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The second-place bidder on the burned-out Flintkote plant plans to see how soil tests turn out before deciding whether to buy the property.

Timothy Birdsall of Hartland has the right to buy the Mill Street property for $2,300 in the wake of the county's tax-foreclosure auction Aug. 24. The top bidder, Douglas Snow of Lockport, walked away without paying after discovered he had bid $2,400 for the former building materials factory.

He was under the impression he was bidding on a garage because of an apparent error in the photograph published in the auction catalog. Snow's refusal to pay left Birdsall as the high remaining bidder. But he is under no legal requirement to buy the property.

The City of Lockport has been trying to get the structure torn down ever since a major fire gutted it more than 20 years ago, but never foreclosed on it, even though the property taxes were unpaid, because it feared being stuck with the cost of an environmental cleanup.

That's what Birdsall is now worried about. Interviewed the day of the county auction, he said he wanted to buy the ruined building to demolish it and haul away the stone and steel for sale in his debris removal and demolition business.

Said Daniel K. King, regional hazardous waste engineer for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, "Under the state Superfund law, as a property owner, he could be held liable."

Last week, Birdsall said, "I'm still doing research on the property. I'm a little leery."

King said the DEC will be on the property, likely in November, to test for contaminated soil. Some barrels of oil containing toxic PCBs were hauled away in the 1980s, and the remains of the building are known to be heavily laden with asbestos.

King said core samples will be taken, 15 to 25 feet deep, around the building and on an island in Eighteenmile Creek behind the former plant. That island is still part of the Flintkote property and was part of the auction lot.

In addition, there may be some surface sampling. King said test results won't be known for three to four months after the samples are collected.

There also will be testing on a small vacant lot next door. Birdsall was the high bidder on that at the county auction, paying $50. But he said, "I might refuse title to that lot. I'm not going to accept title if there's something (toxic) on it. . . . I was led to believe there's nothing on it, but they're testing it."

Meanwhile, the county is making plans to go ahead with another auction, which would include the parcels from the August auction on which the high bidders didn't pay up.

Chief Tax Clerk Eileen Krueger said the main purpose of the auction is to unload properties on which there are also federal liens as well as unpaid county taxes. The federal liens result from income tax liability on the part of the former property owners.

There are about six such properties, and the unpurchased properties from the county's first auction might be added to the list. The soonest that auction would be held is December, Krueger said.

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