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City to test First Ward properties

Lackawanna is taking the final step in a three-step process of figuring out how several clustered brownfields in the city's First Ward can be redeveloped for productive use.

City officials will apply to the state Department of State for a nearly $1 million grant that could help the city implement a "framework" for reinvesting in five key areas of the First Ward.

The City Council on Monday unanimously approved a resolution authorizing Mayor Geoffrey M. Szymanski to seek the funds and continue the city's First Ward Brownfield Opportunity Area Nomination.

"It's a project that's been under way for probably about four or five years. This is the final step," Szymanski said in an interview before the Council meeting.

If the state approves the nomination, it would mark "the beginning of a new beginning" for efforts to redevelop the largely industrial First Ward section of the city, the mayor added.

Several brownfields are concentrated in the boundaries of the 2,064-acre First Ward, where vacant swaths of land have attracted little interest from developers wary of taking on a potentially contaminated property.

The Brownfield Opportunity Area program could help change that. The city already has advanced through the first two steps of the competitive state process.

The program helps the city determine through ground water testing and soil sampling what contaminants are contained within the brownfield sites and at what levels. So far, the city has received mostly good news.

"We are not finding serious contamination. We are finding small amounts of contamination that can be remediated or managed pretty well," said Lou Zicari, a consultant hired by the city to do planning for the First Ward redevelopment efforts.

The more properties that receive clean bills of health through detailed land assessments, the more likely the city will be able to "eliminate a stigma" about contaminants left behind by past industry, noted Zicari.

Additional state and federal incentives are likely to be available to projects down the road that redevelop First Ward brownfields, he added.

Such projects could include recreational uses, such as a trail along Smokes Creek or the continuation through Lackawanna of a waterfront bike path that runs along Fuhrmann Boulevard in Buffalo and ends abruptly near the Buffalo-Lackawanna border, Zicari said.