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Niagara County seeks state extension of brownfield program

LOCKPORT – The Niagara County Legislature called on Albany last week to extend the brownfield cleanup program for at least 10 years so as not to derail efforts to improve the county’s economy and environment.

According to Amy E. Fisk, the county’s senior planner and president of the county’s Brownfields Redevelopment Corp., Niagara County has 338 brownfields, defined as polluted former industrial and commercial sites. The total doesn’t count sites on the state or federal Superfund lists.

Numerous projects in the county made use of the 2003 state law that provided tax credits for cleaning up brownfields.

However, the law expired at the end of 2014, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo vetoed a bill that would have extended the program.

Ten completed brownfield projects in the county have resulted in 969 new jobs and private investment totaling $590 million. The largest were the Greenpac Mill paper plant in Niagara Falls and the conversion of the old Remington Rand plant in North Tonawanda into lofts and a restaurant. The new Basil Toyota dealership in Lockport also was built on a former brownfield.

In a presentation to the County Legislature last week, Fisk said any project seeking the redevelopment tax credit, the most crucial aspect of the policy, would now have to meet at least one of three new criteria: the site would have to be in an economically distressed area; the proposed reuse plan must include affordable housing as a core component; or the cost of the cleanup would have to exceed the value of the property.

Fisk said she has some questions about the criteria, specifically how and by whom “economically distressed area” is defined, and whether the value of the property used to compare to the cleanup cost is the value before the cleanup or after.

“The program needs to be extended for at least 10 years,” Fisk said.

Doing so would reduce the risk for developers who wonder “if taking on a brownfield project is worth their while.”

There are five pending brownfield projects in the county that will continue under the old rules, Fisk said, as long as they’re done by the end of this year. They include the Covanta rail-to-truck facility, a field with rail spurs next to the company’s waste incinerator in Niagara Falls.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com