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State lawmaker meets with Lackawanna, state environment officials over Bethlehem cleanup plan

Opposition to industrial waste remaining on Lackawanna’s waterfront is intensifying, as concerned citizens organize and a state senator presses the state to rethink its plans.

Tecumseh Redevelopment’s plan to shift 8,600 cubic yards of waste – laced with arsenic, benzene and other toxic elements – from one part of the site to another doesn’t align with the city’s long-term plan for the 2-mile-long waterfront parcel, State Sen. Timothy Kennedy, D-Buffalo, said.

“The plan that’s put in place by the DEC has to include a long-term, holistic approach,” Kennedy said after a three-hour meeting with Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey M. Szymanski and officials from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Erie County.

“It’s the front yard to our community,” he said. “We want to work aggressively and as expeditiously as possible to get this site cleaned up.”

Nearly 1,000 people signed an Internet petition urging the removal of toxic remnants of the Bethlehem Steel Co. coke plant and other facilities in Lackawanna.

“We want it out of here,” said Pamela Pacillo, a Lackawanna resident. “We don’t want it buried anywhere near Lackawanna. Take it out to Arizona and bury it in the desert somewhere.”

Whether Tecumseh, the current landholder of the former Bethlehem Steel property, will be told to come up with another plan remains to be seen.

A Tecumseh manager was not available to comment Friday.

Kennedy called Thursday’s discussion the first of what could become monthly meetings among city, county and state officials over what to do with the waste.

“We want to make sure 10, 20, 30, 50 years or a century from now that the decisions we’re making today are helping make Lackawanna as spectacular as the other areas along Lake Erie and the Niagara River,” Kennedy said.

Many city residents – spurred by last month’s report in The Buffalo News and a subsequent online petition drive launched by Erie County Legislator Lynne Dixon – want a new plan.

Residents may be gaining traction in Albany.

DEC officials received Tecumseh’s plan earlier this year. Following a public hearing in May, the agency provided an initial approval for the plan last month.

The plan calls for consolidating the waste – enough to fill about three Olympic-sized swimming pools – into a pair of acid tar pits farther south on the site, where it would be buried and capped. The waste, now currently exposed to the environment, can be found in several locations along the Lackawanna Ship Canal and on the shoreline just northeast of the Steel Winds turbine farm.

Workers would finish consolidating the waste into the tar pits, under the current plan, by the end of November, with Tecumseh submitting a final construction completion report by September 2016, DEC officials said last month.

Szymanski called Tecumseh’s plans far from a done deal.

“We are going to let (DEC) know what we want and the remediation that we are looking for,” Szymanski said.

“My plan is the complete remediation so we can develop it again,” the mayor said. “If that doesn’t happen, we get stuck with 500 acres of Tifft Farms that will be an unusable landfill forever.”

Kennedy, in a letter to DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens July 6, expressed concern that Tecumseh’s plan failed to “address the DEC’s long-term plans” for the site’s redevelopment and ran contrary to both the city’s zoning laws and its Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan.

“We all agree that the residents of the City of Lackawanna deserve the same opportunity for waterfront redevelopment that residents of the city of Buffalo have benefited from over the past decade,” Kennedy wrote. “Any plan for remediation of the Bethlehem Steel site ought to include a comprehensive plan to provide recreation access to this unique site for Lackawanna residents.”