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CLEANUP OF FLINTKOTE SITE POSES COUNCIL DILEMMA

The new Common Council taking office after New Year's will have to decide whether to pay for an environmental assessment of the burned-out Flintkote plant on Mill Street.

The city wants a state "brownfields" grant to pay for demolition of the plant, which has been a goal of every city administration since the building was gutted in a fire two decades ago.

The huge plant is known to be laced with asbestos. Some barrels of hazardous chemicals were removed years ago, but it is assumed the ground is contaminated in some fashion. Also, Eighteenmile Creek runs through the affected property, and the state is currently investigating the sources of pollution in that stream.

In September, state Department of Environmental Conservation engineer Peter J. Buechi told the Council that the city won't be held responsible for cleanup costs if the investigation is done. However, the city cannot use any state money unless it takes over the property.

Also, the city has been advised by state officials that no more than 75 percent of the costs of a chemical cleanup will be funded by a grant under the 1996 Environmental Quality Bond Act. The state's share of asbestos removal and demolition costs is limited to 50 percent.

However, Buechi warned the Council that if no serious chemical contamination is found, the state might well refuse to issue any grant if it would be just for a demolition project.

James P. McCann, the city's chief building inspector, said he is recommending that the city spend about $2,500 for a "Phase 1" assessment. This would include research of the site's history to compile a "shopping list" of what materials might be there.

After that, McCann said the city would have to carry out a phase two assessment, which would include drilling for soil samples to be tested to find what is actually at the site.

"It's a roll of the dice as to what you're going to get," McCann said of the assessment, which he has discussed with officials of Modern Environmental Group Inc. of Lewiston.

McCann estimated the cost of the testing process at $50,000 to $80,000, but Mayor Kenneth D. Swan said, "I think that is a low figure for that site. I'm looking at $100,000 to $125,000."

Swan said the city would like a state waiver to simply demolish the plant and cap the site without doing any asbestos removal or cleanup, as if it were a toxic waste landfill like the ones in Niagara Falls.

Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano said a waiver from the asbestos-removal requirement could be issued by the state Labor Department.

"In order to apply for it, we've got to get this study done," he said.

Simply knocking the building down and capping the site with clay "would be the most cost-effective remediation," Ottaviano added.

McCann said the eventual redevelopment of the site is unlikely, even if the asbestos is removed first. "You're never going to use that (site) for anything again, except maybe green space," he told the Council.

However, to do anything to the property, the city would have to take title "to something that might be a financial nightmare," Ottaviano said.

The city is entitled to take the property over because property taxes haven't been paid in years. "We'd like to (take title) if it falls within our financial capability," Swan said.

There is a dispute over who owns the site. Thomas E. Carter, a Medina businessman, owned it but sold it to Ted Gleave of Indiana. However, Gleave claims he never signed any of the paperwork to make the transfer official.

The state is suing both men in an effort to recover the costs of the removal of barrels of toxic chemicals from the site in 1979. That suit was filed in 1994.

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