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New toxins found at former Westwood Country Club site in Amherst

More contaminants have been found at the former Westwood Country Club Golf Course.

Mensch Capital partners, owners of the 170-acre parcel at Sheridan Drive and North Forest Road in Amherst, have given the state updated soil tests that reveal contamination beyond the traces of arsenic found on the tees and fairways in an initial sampling two years ago.

The developer, which has proposed a $238 million mixed-use development on the site, was required to submit a draft sampling report to the state Department of Environmental Conservation as part of its participation in the state’s Brownfields Cleanup Program.

“We completed a pilot sampling study and, while we confirmed the presence of arsenic, that we expected, we additionally found several other metals with levels … in excess of the state cleanup requirements,” said Andrew J. Shaevel, whose group acquired the Westwood site for $2.5 million in 2014.

Those other metals not previously detected include cadmium, chromium, copper, mercury, lead and zinc.

“So that means that we have additional contaminants on site that we originally had not expected to find but, upon research, have determined are consistent with the historic use of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides on the golf course,” Shaevel added.

This new discovery will undoubtedly increase the cost of remediating the site, which had been pegged at between $3 million and $4 million. That, however, does not pose any real impediment to the developer’s plans.

“This finding doesn’t dissuade us at all, but it’s helping us to better understand what needs to be done and further reinforces the justification of why we entered into the Brownfield Cleanup Program to begin with,” Shaevel said Thursday.

As part of its agreement with the state, the developer will be eligible for brownfield cleanup credits, which would cover between 25 percent and 50 percent of the cleanup cost upon the successful completion of the remediation. That, plus development credits it would receive from the state for turning the site back into a tax revenue-producing property, would allow the developer to recover its costs, Shaevel said.

“We have a responsibility to do what’s right with the property, and what’s right is remediating the contamination that we inherited from the prior owners. The right way to do that is in conjunction with some level of development of the site, because that’s the only way to make the remediation economically feasible,” he added.

However, Amherst Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein disagreed.

“The DEC has represented to us, at least informally, based upon previous testing, that the site is OK for a park and for passive recreation,” Weinstein said Thursday.

The supervisor and other town officials have expressed interest in seeking state funding to preserve a portion of the Westwood property as greenspace, similar to how the town acquired land for Amherst State Park from the Sisters of St. Francis.

A spokesman for Mensch said the company was not aware of the soil test results before submitting its draft environmental report to the Town Board.