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The vacant site of the former Bethlehem Steel plant in Lackawanna is nearing a rebirth as a home for industry and jobs, one year after a reuse plan was announced, officials from the company and Erie County said Thursday.

County Executive Dennis Gorski announced Thursday a $1 million grant to upgrade the 1,100-acre site's infrastructure, such as roads and utilities.

The county development funds will attract matching funds from state and federal programs and bolster the confidence of potential developers in the site, officials said. Allocation of the funds faces approval by the Legislature.

"What we're seeing is the beginning of the revitalization of this property," said Richard M. Tobe, Erie County commissioner of environment and planning.

A year ago, Bethlehem pledged $5 million to help prepare the site along the shore of Lake Erie as a home for light- and heavy-industry, distribution business and other uses.

Now the company is fielding inquiries about the property from potential industrial users, said Greg Paolini, superintendent of Bethlehem's Galvanized Products plant.

The company has petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to release 600 acres of the site near Route 5 for development, Paolini said. That will allow development of unpolluted areas while other areas closer to the shore await cleanup.

Tobe said he was confident the EPA would grant the petition.

The county is targeting the site as a home for water-intensive industries such as food processing, electronics, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. Parts of the site have pipelines that can draw water directly from the lake.

The summer's drought, which imposed widespread water rationing in parts of the country, should highlight the advantage of developing on the Lake Erie shoreline, officials said.

Among the infrastructure needs is road work that would connect the site with the Thruway without snarling Route 5, officials said. Also planned is internal road work that would avoid creating multiple entrances on Route 5. The county earlier earmarked $25,000 for a traffic study.

Part of the redevelopment area near Ridge Road is adjacent to Bethlehem's coke production facility, which is still in use and serviced by lines of the South Buffalo Railway.

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