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NEW ACTIVITY ON AN OLD SITE
FORMER BETHLEHEM STEEL LAND TO UNDERGO CLEANUP AND DEVELOPMENT BY A STEEL COMPANY THAT HAS DONE THIS TYPE OF RECLAMATION PROJECT BEFORE

Lackawanna residents 10 years from now hope to look at their sprawling lakefront and see a marina, park and waterfront greenway instead of belching smoke from a steel plant.

They also may find a golf course and a 300-acre business park.

But is this new plan for reusing the two miles of lakefront -- once home to Bethlehem Steel -- real or just another waterfront pipe dream?

"I'm here to tell you today this is for real," Keith Nagel, general manager of Tecumseh Redevelopment, said during a news conference Wednesday. Tecumseh is a subsidiary of International Steel Group, which bought Bethlehem Steel two years ago.

The financial and environmental hurdles are almost as big as the 1,100-acre site.

Chief among them are time and money needed to clean up contamination. The owners estimate a full cleanup would take up to a decade and cost $64 million.

But ISG, which recently merged with Mittal Steel Co. and is now part of the world's largest steelmaker, has both.

"We want to develop the land, but we want to do it right," said ISG spokesman Charles Glazer. "We want to get this land back into useful production for the community."

Even before ISG announced its ambitious plans Wednesday, company executives were laying the groundwork for public money to help finance a cleanup.

Executives met Wednesday morning with officials from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and made it clear they intend to seek brownfield funds from the state.

"We're committed to working with them," said DEC spokeswoman Meaghan Boice-Green.

ISG already has signed a consent order to clean up a portion of the site.

Erie County is prepared to commit $10 million, said Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra.

"Our money would go for the infrastructure and sewer and roads that would be the last phase of the redevelopment," Giambra said.

Included in the $10 million is $1 million from block grants, $1 million set aside in 1980 by the County Legislature and $2 million in state multimodal funds for rail improvements on the site. And, despite what other lawmakers might say, several-million unspent dollars from the county's share of the tobacco settlement are available, Giambra said.

Range of contaminants

Contamination at the former Bethlehem property ranges from solid waste sites and acid tar pits to polluted slag areas and old tank farms.

"We know what (we've) got," said Tecumseh's Nagel. "We've done this before in several other cities," including Pittsburgh and Bethlehem, Pa. "This isn't new to us and we can make this happen."

While the company's plans may seem overly ambitious on paper, executives say the 8-to-10-year timetable and the phased approach to cleaning up and reusing the site make the project viable.

Asbestos abatement already has begun in the coke plant. And, according to the preliminary remediation schedule released Wednesday, work will begin this year on the benzol plant and acid tar pits.

Remediation work is scheduled through 2012 and multiple projects are slated to begin next year.

ISG, which inherited the problems when it bought Bethlehem two years ago, is targeting one of the site's less problematic areas to start the project.

The first phase, which could begin this year, is a 102-acre business park -- the first of three business parks -- on land next to Route 5 away from the lakefront.

State officials said that part of the site is contaminated with petroleum, but the problem is not as serious as the contamination elsewhere.

"We have ways to deal with petroleum," said Boice-Green.

Piece by piece cleanup

ISG plans to clean up the massive site piece by piece with an eye toward selling and redeveloping about 1,000 acres of prime lakefront land.

The project would include the demolition of the old Bethlehem coke ovens -- one of the few remaining structures, and relocation of existing railroad tracks along Route 5 and of Smokes Creek, a small creek running through the middle of the former steel plant.

The old administration building will be marketed, Nagel said.

Nagel avoided specifying future uses for the site, beyond "mixed use."

"You don't want to be rigid and say, 'This is what we're going to do,' " he said.

However, the tentative plan provides for approximately 300 acres to be kept for public access and recreation, Giambra said. "We are going to do as much . . . on the water's edge as possible."

The site redevelopment will get done, Giambra emphasized. "I know there are a number of people who are skeptical," he added.

During the past 15 years, other proposals that failed to get off the ground included a tire-burning plant, medical waste treatment plant, golf course and a series of light industrial uses.

Giambra points to Tecumseh's experience in such remediation projects.

"This is not the first time they're doing this; they have experience, a track record," Giambra said. "Now it's in the hands of the world's largest steel manufacturer. You've got real players with real money."

e-mail: pfairbanks@buffnews.com and jhabuda@buffnews.com