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Outer Harbor plan will overcome environmental obstacles, waterfront official says

A revised plan expected to shift proposed housing to the southern end of the Outer Harbor would be evaluated during an environmental review, during which brownfield remedies would be considered, an Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. board member said Friday.

“Nobody has ever suggested there aren’t environmental issues at this location. It’s well known. It’s well documented,” said Sam Hoyt, who serves on the state watefront agency’s board. “But it would be irresponsible to discuss anything until there is a plan in place that guides the (environmental review) process, as required by state and environmental law.”

Hoyt held an impromptu press conference in response to an Investigative Post report that warned the agency’s expected plan to shift housing near a former Superfund site would threaten public health.

Hoyt said the agency has long acknowledged the Outer Harbor was once a repository for the dumping of hazardous waste. Any plan would go through an environmental review process, he said.

A revised plan for the Outer Harbor, being prepared by the agency’s consultants, is expected to be released at a public forum later this month or in early April.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has determined the site could be fully reusable, under certain conditions, for recreational, commercial and even residential uses, Hoyt said.

“As it is now, the property would not be suitable for residential development in certain areas,” Hoyt said. “The environmental review process will dictate the appropriate remedies, depending on the planned use of the parcels.”

The former state Superfund site north of Terminals A and B was cleaned up by Honeywell in 2004 and 2005 and delisted. The state environmental agency monitors the site.

Hoyt pointed to the success of Wilkeson Pointe, a new waterfront park on the Outer Harbor. The waterfront agency spent over $1 million on environmental remediation so it could be used safely by the public, he said.

“Why would we do anything different? We have done a project on the Outer Harbor. The public loves it,” he said. “But before opening to the public we did the environmental research and we did the remediation, and then we celebrated the opening of a beautiful new park on the waterfront. Nothing will be different in regards to the rest of the property,” Hoyt said.

Hoyt said documents citing environmental dangers at the site, which Investigative Post acquired through the Freedom of Information Act, could be added to the agency’s website. He also said marketing and economic studies would be available after they’re completed in the coming weeks.

“It’s a very public process, and any suggestion that there is no transparency is wrong, and disregards the facts,” Hoyt said.

Those who attended public meetings last July and August expressed a preference for open space and shoreline access on the Outer Harbor. The agency unveiled a draft plan in September, but the decision-making process has slowed in recent months following public resistance to the proposal for housing clusters on the site.

msommer@buffnews.com