The state Department of Environmental Conservation kicked off a public comment period Monday on its plans to clean up the site of the former Flintkote plant on Mill Street.
The property is owned by Niagara County, which foreclosed on it because of unpaid taxes in 1999 without realizing it was a hazardous waste site.
However, the county may not be stuck with the cleanup cost if it doesn't want to be.
"They have the option to opt out," said Meaghan Boice-Green, spokeswoman in the DEC's Buffalo office.
She said the county has the right to bow out because it voluntarily carried out an investigation of the plant, abandoned since it was gutted by a major fire more than 30 years ago.
"Once the cleanup plan is finalized in a record of decision, we will go to the county and ask them if they want to continue with this," Boice-Green said.
If the county begs off, the state Superfund will pay the tab. However, the County Legislature included $2.5 million for the cleanup in this year's capital budget of major projects to be funded by borrowing.
"There is a chance this could go to Superfund, where we don't have to pay anything, but we did put some money in the budget in case we do have some obligation to it," said Richard W. Eakin, deputy public works commissioner for engineering.
Boice-Green said even if the county does front the money, the state will reimburse the county for 90 percent of the cost.
The site of the former felt and building materials plant includes 46,500 cubic yards of ash fill, including organic compounds and heavy metals. Eighteen Mile Creek runs through the six-acre property.
Some drums containing PCBs were removed as far back as 1984. In 1991, the DEC removed 28 more drums of toxic waste. The federal Superfund paid for demolition of some of the buildings in 2002.
The DEC's new plan calls for excavating all hazardous fill and replacing it with a layer of clean soil at least two feet thick. All surviving buildings will be demolished and their foundations removed to four feet below grade, and an outflow pipe to the creek is to be cleaned of sediment and plugged.
County officials have talked about turning the site into a park once it's cleaned up.
The comment period began with a public meeting Monday night in Lockport Public Library. Written comments will be accepted until March 23. The full cleanup plan is available for reading at the library.