State regulators fined Gerald Buchheit's Queen City Landing $50,000 for breaking a state environmental conservation law when it allowed a section of concrete wall to fall into Lake Erie last year during the demolition of the former Freezer Queen building on the waterfront site.
Queen City Landing admitted to violations and agreed to pay the fine as part of a consent order issued in early May by the state Department of Environmental Conservation "to protect public health and the environment," DEC spokeswoman Kristen Davidson said.
The order and violation notice were made public this week in response to a Freedom of Information request submitted by Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.
"We will continue to follow activity at this site, including environmental testing, water quality monitoring and contaminant cleanup, and will share any information with the public as it becomes available," the nonprofit group said in a statement Wednesday.
The principals behind Queen City Landing said they had "addressed the issue, both internally and with the DEC." In particular, the group said it "removed and replaced our legal and environmental consultants in response to DEC matters."
"The DEC recently brought certain matters to our attention, pertaining to certain specific site activities and information," the group said in an emailed statement. "We immediately, and over the course of the past several weeks, have actively cooperated with the DEC to examine all issues and answer all questions."
The state's actions stemmed from the collapse of a section of wall panel into the lake on Nov. 17, 2016. Queen City Landing sought and obtained an emergency permit to remove the concrete from the water, but the material remained in the lake until Dec. 10 and prompted increased scrutiny of the work.
State inspectors also found that Queen City Landing failed to take proper care in dealing with debris and lead-based paint chips, potentially allowing it to be mixed with crushed concrete and reused as fill material instead of being separated and disposed of elsewhere.
According to the state order, the developer's contractor, AMD Environmental, sent the ownership group a report in September 2015 that detailed the various parts of the old building that consistently tested positive for lead-based paint. Yet Queen City Landing didn't order any additional testing for over a year and then minimized the presence of contaminants in a letter requesting state permission to crush the concrete and reuse the materials, the state found.
The state demanded additional testing of the materials in September 2016, but said it did not receive the report until January 2017.
Buchheit and his partners are planning to construct a 23-story apartment tower with a glass curtain wall on part of a 20-acre peninsula in Lake Erie. The 370,000-square-foot project, located at 975 and 1005 Furhmann Blvd., will include 197 one- and two-bedroom apartments, as well as two restaurants, a pool and fitness center, as well as a three-story parking ramp.
The project evoked controversy among environmentalists, waterfront advocates and others who objected to the size and scale of the proposed building on the Outer Harbor. They also cited risks to the environment and birds. The project prompted several lawsuits, one of which is still pending.
As part of the project, Queen City Landing demolished the six-story former refrigerated storage building that had been on the property for decades and said it would remediate the entire site under the state-supervised Brownfield Cleanup Program.
So far, work on the site has involved demolition and debris removal, but Queen City Landing spokesman Phil Pantano said remediation activities should start next week. That will last several weeks. New construction cannot begin until the court either rules on the remaining litigation or lifts restrictions on starting work.
“We have made significant progress in the herculean task of transforming a challenging, privately owned site on the Outer Harbor," Queen City Landing said in its statement. "We look forward to continuing and completing our remediation activities at the site, in full compliance with the standards of the DEC’s Brownfield Cleanup Program, which is an essential component to this once-in-a-lifetime development opportunity."