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The roughly $1 million cleanup of a former agricultural chemical site here is nearing completion.

Kevin M. Matheis, on-scene coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said he expects to hold a public "close-out" meeting sometime in July to report on the success of the Barker Chemical project.

Buildings have been demolished, contaminated topsoil removed and about 280,000 gallons of acidic water pumped out of two ponds on the approximately 11-acre property on West Somerset Road, abutting the western boundary of the Village of Barker.

The main problem to be remedied was acidic runoff from two waste piles left behind by Barker Chemical when it closed about 20 years ago. The pollution leached into Golden Hill Creek and from there into Lake Ontario.

Tests by the EPA in June 2000 disclosed arsenic contamination.

"They moved a lot faster than I thought they would," said Wallace H. Coates, Somerset's code enforcement officer. "I thought it would take two or three years to get the federal government involved, never mind clean it up so fast."

Matheis said the project began last October. Work continued through December and then resumed in March.

Edmund P. Sullivan, county brownfields coordinator, said the county and the Town of Somerset brought the site to the attention of the state and federal governments.

"Their level of cooperation has been terrific," Sullivan said of the town officials. As for the EPA and the Department of Environmental Conservation, Sullivan said, "They came up to the plate and hit a home run."

Matheis said the runoff problem was exacerbated by natural springs on the site as well as precipitation.

"The sulfur would mix with water and make sulfuric acid," he explained.

The springs will now drain into the creek's tributary through a drainage channel that has been cleaned out and lined with rock.

Also, two ponds of about an acre each were drained. The EPA's contractor, WRS Infrastructure and Environmental, a Pennsylvania company, pumped a total of 280,000 gallons out of the two ponds.

The water was hauled to the Niagara Falls and North Tonawanda city wastewater treatment plants, since those had the most capacity for industrial sewage treatment of any local facilities, Matheis said.

The sludge and sediment in the ponds was removed and the ponds will be filled in. Matheis said the disposal of the sediment will be bid out, but it will not have to go to a hazardous waste landfill.

"It was not judged hazardous waste," Matheis said.

The site is owned by the sons of the late Martin Mazza of Medina, the former owner. The brothers live in Tennessee, and according to the county real property tax office, two years' worth of taxes are unpaid on the property.

Coates said he expects the property will eventually be foreclosed upon. He said the town may not have a direct say in what becomes of the site.

"Hopefully, we'll get it back on the tax rolls," he said. The property is currently zoned industrial, Coates said.

Matheis said the EPA "would recommend a passive sort of park" for the rear part of the land. In practice, that might equate to a wildlife refuge. The part of the property closest to West Somerset Road could be reused in line with brownfields standards, he added.

Two buildings were demolished along the front of the parcel, leaving one, a concrete block structure, Coates said.

The EPA will be pursuing legal action against current and former owners to try to recover the $1 million spent on the cleanup, Matheis said.

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