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A former dump on the banks of the Niagara River appears on its way to becoming a major state park offering something for adults, children, and even fish and wildlife.

After two years of work, the $10 million cleanup of a 60-acre dump site in the Town of Tonawanda once operated by Wickwire-Spencer Steel is complete, setting the stage for the next phase of the project: trying to turn the former dump into a park.

There already are detailed plans, including:

A one-acre playground billed as "biggest in the state."

An amphitheater for concerts, shows and similar activities.

A fishing pier and a launch area for kayaks, canoes and rowboats.

An extension to the Riverwalk, going through the new park near the river.

Creation of new wetlands, attracting snapping turtles, birds, and other indigenous wildlife.

There also is up to $5 million in state money already set aside for the proposed park.

With the money available, and cleanup complete, the state is talking with the current owner of the land, Niagara Mohawk, about buying the property.

"It's still in the negotiating stage," said Joseph Picchi, a spokesman for the state Parks Department. "They are still talking about it. We don't know that it is going to happen."

Niagara Mohawk would like to see the land used for green space but is concerned about potential liability, said Stephen Brady, a spokesman for Niagara Mohawk.

"Early on, we expressed interest in trying to make some sort of recreation use of the site," he said. "The key issue remains indemnification."

Niagara Mohawk is concerned about its potential liability if environmental problems surface in the future, and also is concerned with protecting
its investment in the cleanup work, Brady said.

Town of Tonawanda Supervisor Carl J. Calabrese is optimistic that the issues can be resolved, partly because the park plans designed for the town by Wendel Engineers were incorporated into the remediation and cleanup plans, which were designed by Parsons Engineering Science Inc. of Williamsville.

Niagara Mohawk was involved in preparation of those plans, Brady said.

The 60-acre tract, commonly referred to as the Cherry Farm, is just south of the South Grand Island Bridge, not far from Erie County's Isle View Park.

The site was a dumping ground for the steel industry from 1908 until 1963, when it began accepting general industrial waste for seven years.

It later was purchased by Niagara Mohawk but never was used by the utility company.

"It was part of a package deal when we bought land across the street," Brady said. "To the best of our knowledge, we never actually used the land."

Still, Niagara Mohawk is among the four past and current owners who split the $10 million cost of the cleanup and remediation work.

The remediation generally involved placing a two-foot soil cap over a fabric base placed on the existing soil, and installing eight wells to prevent ground water from seeping to the surface, said James H. Kyles of Parsons Engineering Science.

The soil underneath the cap is mixed with heavy metals and organic materials, and there is iron in the the ground water, said Daniel King, an engineer with the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

But because of the interest in eventually turning the site into a park, the remediation has gone further, King said.

In areas where roadways, water pipes, utility lines and other installations associated with a park would go, the dirt was removed and replaced with clean soil, King said.

Additional dirt was added in areas where there would be pavilions or buildings that would require foundations or sewers.

For example, there are four extra feet of clean fill -- above the two-foot cap -- where the amphitheater would go, Kyles said.

Also, additional wetlands were created on the perimeter of the land, and an alternative Riverwalk path was created.

When negotiations to transfer the property are complete, plans for the park will be finalized, Calabrese said. After that, he says, the park should be operational within a year.

While the cleanup at the Cherry Farm site is complete, additional work is being done on an adjacent 23-acre site that is privately owned. That work should be completed in November, King said.

Calabrese suggested that it would be nice if that land eventually were added to the planned Cherry Farm.

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