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State announces cleanup of 489 acres at Bethlehem Steel site

State announces cleanup of 489 acres at Bethlehem Steel site

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Against the backdrop of a rusting coke oven processing plant, the state Department of Environmental Conservation on Tuesday announced a breakthrough agreement requiring the owners of the former Bethlehem Steel site in Lackawanna to spend at least $35 million to clean up 489 contaminated acres.

"This is the dawn of a whole new era," said Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, whose father, grandfather and uncles all worked at the former steel plant. "I never thought I'd live long enough to see this day."

The court-ordered agreement, which had been sought by the DEC for more than two years, reinvigorates hope that much of the largely abandoned property will eventually see complete rebirth. 

While nearly 150 acres fronting Route 5 has been remediated and transferred to the control of Erie County – where Amazon two years ago contemplated a logistics facility – the vast majority of the contaminated site remains owned by Tecumseh Redevelopment and ArcelorMittal, which inherited the contaminated land.

The new consent order, which will be subject to court oversight and enforcement, will require the property owners to remediate the rest of the property, which stretches from behind Route 5 out to Lake Erie, said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos, who was at the site for the announcement.

"Today is a great day," he said. "It's the beginning of a process. We will, of course, be here as we have been, for years to come to ensure that this project is administered correctly and we can look toward a brighter day for this site."

With a consent order now in place, a remedial action plan will be developed with community input incorporating wildlife habitat and greater public access to the shoreline, he said.

"This order marks a significant milestone in the revitalization of Western New York where we are turning blights of the past into economic engines of the future," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement.

While $35 million is a rough estimate of how much it will cost to remediate the property enough to permit new development, it is possible the plan will require Tecumseh and ArcelorMittal to spend even more to make that plan a reality, officials said.

The Bethlehem Steel site was virtually abandoned after steelmaking ceased on the property in 1983, leaving a rusting and toxic site as a reminder of a company that once employed upward of 25,000 people on the property.  

The last vestiges of the old Bethlehem Steel coke ovens were still in use until 2001. After they closed, the DEC began oversight of the cleanup effort, focusing on the most contaminated parts of the property. 

Roughly $20 million has already been spent by the owners under a DEC administrative consent decree, with much of that remediation centered on the property's most critical needs: eliminating the spread of contaminated groundwater, remediating the tar pit and dredging Smokes Creek.

DEC officials anticipate it will take five to 10 years to fully remediate the property under the current consent order, but since some acres are much less contaminated than others, it is possible to fast-track cleanup of some sections to more rapidly meet business development needs.

The least contaminated property, which fronts Route 5 and was subject to a state-supervised brownfield cleanup effort, has either been transferred to county control or will be through the Erie County Industrial Land Development Corp.

The first roughly 150 acres are being marketed to commercial and industrial tenants, while the land development corporation is preparing to buy 90 more acres for the second phase.

So far, public redevelopment has included construction of a bike trail along Route 5, the extension of Dona Street into the property, and the relocation of rail lines for the benefit of existing and future businesses on the property. 

TMP Technologies – which makes Magic Eraser and other cleaning products – purchased 28 acres of the site for $1.05 million in 2019 and is in the midst of constructing a 280,000-square-foot manufacturing plant that would employ 130. That would be near the Welded Tube plant that opened in 2013 on a neighboring site, with 100 employees.

The cleanup should bridge the gap between mitigating the worst of the pollution to making it ready for new business construction.

The consent order will also fast track the company's reimbursement of past costs incurred under the state's Superfund program.

"This has already dragged on long enough for the people of Lackawanna," Seggos said. "All have an interest in seeing this parcel redeveloped safely."

Read the full story from News Staff Reporter Sandy Tan

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Related to this story

  • Updated

With modern factory space in short supply, Erie County wants YOU to build a new manufacturing building in Lackawanna. The Buffalo and Erie County Industrial Land Development Corp. is seeking a developer to put up a “spec” industrial building on part of the former Bethlehem Steel property just south of Buffalo near Lake Erie. The land development arm of

  • Updated

State officials held a news conference announcing a comprehensive cleanup of the former Bethlehem Steel site in Lackawanna on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020.

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