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Union Carbide cleanup loan OK'd

Niagara Falls businessman Salvatore "Sam" Santarosa has been approved for a second loan to pay for the cleanup and demolition of the former Union Carbide plant on College Avenue in the Falls.

The Niagara County Brownfield Development Corp. approved the $384,900 loan Monday, which will be added to a $250,000 loan the same agency approved in December 2008.

Santarosa Holdings bought the 13-acre property in hopes of cleaning it up and selling off parcels to other companies.

The firm already has a deal with Green Tire Systems, a New Jersey company that plans to buy five acres of land to recycle tires on the site. The project, which received a property tax break from the county Industrial Development Agency, is supposed to create 45 jobs.

However, that can't go forward until the cleanup is completed. Santarosa said things turned out to be worse than he thought.

"The more we dig, the more we find under the ground," he said. "We just hold our breaths every time someone puts a shovel in the ground."

So far, Santarosa said he's spent $1.8 million on the cleanup and demolition of the abandoned factory. Except for about $92,000 he's tapped from the first county loan, all of that has come from his own pocket.

"We've taken out probably over 1,000 tons of debris," he said. "We struck oil -- not the kind you can refine into gasoline."

It appeared to be the remains of some underground storage tank, Santarosa said.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is overseeing the project. Its investigations found plenty of cancer-causing PCBs, asbestos and organic compounds.

Santarosa said he's had to grapple with things like galbestos, a heat-resistant siding material from the factory that was laced with 11,000 parts per million of PCBs.

"The only thing that's standing on that land is three stacks, and we're going to take two of them down," he said.

He hopes to obtain a certificate of completion from the DEC by June, so he can make the Green Tire deal and negotiate actively with two other companies that have shown interest. He would not identify them.

Both of Santarosa's loans are for five years at 3 percent annual interest.

Despite the high costs and the extended hassle, Santarosa vowed, "We'll develop the land and get our money back and generate some business."

The pool of money for grants and loans came from a $1 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2008. In 2009, the EPA gave the county another $900,000 grant under the federal economic stimulus legislation.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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