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Zoladz Construction's owner buys EPA chemical cleanup site in Tonawanda

The owner of an Alden-based construction company has paid $674,000 for an industrial site in the Town of Tonawanda where the federal government recently conducted an extensive cleanup.

John Zoladz of Zoladz Construction Co. bought four connected parcels, totaling 9 acres, on and around 380 Vulcan St. near Kenmore Avenue from Morgan Materials Inc., public records show.

Morgan Materials, also known as Morgan Chemical, acquired chemical raw materials and blended them into new product mixtures for resale in this country and internationally. But state and federal environmental authorities in 2016 took over the properties for an emergency cleanup, after an inspection found Morgan had carelessly stockpiled thousands of drums of hazardous chemicals on the site.

The company's facility, which is near a charter school in the town, housed numerous chemical containers, many of which were unlabeled, leaking or stored improperly, officials reported.

The 55-gallon drums, sacks and other containers held flammables, corrosives, resins and epoxies and could have leaked or caused fires, and the entire facility was “full of hazardous substances,” including volatile organic compounds and heavy metals, the federal Environmental Protection Agency said following the inspection.

The EPA's effort to inventory and identify the chemicals and clean up the facility took place after state environmental officials say Morgan Materials failed to comply with numerous requests to voluntarily bring its inventory into compliance.

The federal agency removed thousands of tons of chemicals for off-site disposal, and it arranged for 36 companies to take back chemicals they had supplied to Morgan, saving $8 million in cleanup costs.

The EPA this week could not immediately provide the total cost of the cleanup, which lasted 17 months and concluded in July 2018.

The improperly stored chemicals weren't the only problem for Morgan Materials. The county foreclosed on the properties in July due to unpaid property taxes. However, on Sept. 24, one day before the county's foreclosure sale, Morgan Materials got the properties pulled from the auction list by paying off what they owed from 2015 and 2016, said Nancy Snyder, Erie County's acting real property tax services director.

Morgan Materials and company President Donald P. Sadkin had reached an agreement in August to sell the four properties to a limited liability company connected to John Zoladz and his firm. The sale closed Sept. 25, and the deed was filed with the County Clerk's Office last week.

Morgan Materials still owed $339,746 in unpaid county, town and school taxes and interest, dating back to 2017, on the properties at 380, 400, 408 and 416 Vulcan St., according to Erie County real property records. That debt is now the responsibility of the new owner, Snyder said.

The Town of Tonawanda also has had issues with unpaid bills for water used by those and neighboring properties. A number of buildings with different owners share one water connection, with no one taking responsibility for the charges, said Supervisor Joseph Emminger.

Some of the properties also were improperly subdivided, creating access and zoning problems in addition to the water and sewer connection woes, said James Hartz, the town's director of community development.

"As a business prospect, it was just quote-unquote 'a hot mess,' really, back there in terms of legality and land use," Hartz said. He said he hopes the sale can help improve site access and the utilities setup.

The town, however, is glad to see the former site of an federal emergency cleanup finding new life under new ownership.

This comes as the former Tonawanda Coke plant has a new owner but awaits a decision on how to proceed with that cleanup. And the town also waits for more information on who will buy NRG Energy's former Huntley generating station, also on River Road.

"Obviously it reinforces what we've always been saying: It's a good location there, on Vulcan Street, and Tonawanda is an attractive place to do business," Emminger said.

Tonawanda officials say Zoladz hasn't filed paperwork detailing the company's plans for the properties, though Emminger said he did recently meet with a Zoladz representative.

Dave Clare, a Zoladz manager, on Monday said John Zoladz's purchase of the properties through a limited liability company has nothing to do with Zoladz Construction.

He said John Zoladz bought them as an investment and is interested in getting the parcels back on the tax rolls and leasing them to another business. Clare said Zoladz still must take a closer look at the properties and the remaining buildings to see what condition they're in and how much rehabilitation still is required.

Clare said he has no timeline for the redevelopment of the properties.

Zoladz Construction, based in Alden, has earned negative attention in recent years.

The company was cited for Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations following the death of one of its employees in April 2018. Zoladz also reached a $3 million settlement with the federal Department of Justice in 2017 after it was accused of scheming to fraudulently gain federal contracting work.

Based on some of those issues, Erie County earlier this year rejected Zoladz's low bid for a $3.9 million repaving project in Blasdell.

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