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Lands that were part of the Niagara Frontier's industrial past seem hard to make into a useful part of our future. Yet, they must be.

Take an old industrial dumping area along the Niagara River in the Town of Tonawanda, for instance. For years, there has been talk of creating a waterfront park on the 60 acres just south of the South Grand Island Bridge. It's happening, but very slowly.

Two years worth of remediation work at the hazardous waste site is finished, and negotiations are starting for the state's purchase of the property from the Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. The hitch could be the power company's concern about legal liability for environmental problems that may turn up in the future. As one link in the chain of owners, Niagara Mohawk feels it could be vulnerable to a lawsuit down the line.

Nevertheless, all parties in this project need to keep the community's objective in sight. That goal is to turn wasted river frontage bedeviled by a careless past into a safe asset for the enjoyment of citizens.

In the remedial work, a two-foot-deep soil cap with a fabric base has been placed over the contaminated ground to seal it off. Where park roads and pipes will go, the old dirt has been removed and replaced with clean soil. Eight wells will prevent ground water from reaching the surface. The ground water will be run through the town's sewage treatment plant, but will not need advance treatment. It's important to know that state health and environmental agencies must approve the remedial work before there can be a park.

A Niagara Mohawk official says the company's chief concern is that sometime in the future there may be drilling or construction work at the site that will break the seal and open the company to legal liability. Damage of that sort should be a universal public concern. In fact, the state must take extra precautions to see it doesn't happen. Over long years, the state will have to make sure park managers and supervisors know the history of the place and plan accordingly.

Plans call for a large playground, an amphitheater for concerts and shows, a fishing pier with dock space for canoes and rowboats, an extension of the Riverwalk and creation of new wetlands to attract a variety of wildlife. Let's keep after it and get it done.

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