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Cleanup finished at battery plant, DEC says

Officials with the state Department of Environmental Conservation said Monday that the department has done as much cleanup work as was needed at a former battery factory in the Town of Lockport.

The DEC announced that it will hold a public meeting at 7 p.m. March 5 in Town Hall to gather comments on its decision to call a halt to work at the Electruk Battery plant in the town industrial park off Upper Mountain Road.

Town Attorney Daniel E. Seaman said some paperwork still needs to be done, including negotiations with Niagara County to clear up the county's right to foreclose on the property because of unpaid property taxes -- a step the county didn't take to avoid running the risk of being stuck with cleanup costs on the 1.4-acre site.

Then the town Industrial Development Agency can get to work marketing the site, which includes a largely intact 14,000-square-foot building.

"I'm optimistic by the end of this year, we'll be able to shake it loose," said Seaman, who has been working on the legal aspects of the issue for eight years.

Electruk went out of business in 1996, after a six-alarm fire triggered by a sulfuric acid spill in January 1995 damaged the plant and released contamination.

Containers filled with lead sludge and sulfuric acid were found at the loading dock, while the fire spread lead dust through the plant. The DEC asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to carry out a Superfund cleanup, and in June 1999 the EPA completed the removal of the drums at the dock, some smaller containers of solvents and two bulk acid storage tanks.

After that, the town worked with the DEC to remediate the site as a brownfield, because of lead in the surface soil. Sampling completed last spring showed no lead in deeper soils or in ground water. The town paid 10 percent of the $78,110 cost of the samples, with the DEC paying the rest.

"Additional work is unnecessary because residual contamination levels meet state standards for commercial and industrial use," DEC spokesman Mark Baetz-hold said. "EPA excavated up to 18 inches to remove impacted soil. DEC surface soil sampling [on the topmost 3 inches of dirt] confirmed that all impacted areas were addressed to at least commercial standards."

All lead levels on the site are below the commercial cleanup threshold of 1,000 parts per million, Baetzhold said.

The DEC intends to issue an environmental easement requiring only industrial use of the site, but since it's located in an industrial park, that shouldn't interfere with reuse plans.

"Through the years we've had lots of inquiries on this property," Seaman said. "It's a moderate-sized building. It could be ideal for certain types of business."

He said some painting may be necessary on the beams to "encapsulate" any surviving dust pollutants.

A public comment period on the DEC's decision opened Monday and runs through March 25. Baetzhold said a final DEC decision is expected by March 31.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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