Former steel plant more contaminated than anticipated


OBSERVER Photo by Damian Sebouhian: Due to higher than anticipated levels of contamination at the former Al Tech Specialty Steel plant on Lucas Avenue, the site will not be able to be developed with any structure requiring a foundation.

Sometimes when you go digging, you find buried treasure. Not so the case for the Lucas Avenue Superfund site in the city of Dunkirk.

At a recent Department of Public Works Committee meeting, City DPW Director Randy Woodbury told Common Council members the contamination of the former Al Tech Specialty Steel plant was the “worse than they anticipated.”

“I go to their meetings, of course, it’s a (Department of Environmental Conservation) project, it’s $5 million for remediation on that brownfield. Even after they’ve done $5 million, it’s not shovel-ready brownfield. The contamination was quite severe there, but it’s going to be protected, the contamination will be sealed in the ground,” Woodbury said.

Second Ward Councilman Marty Bamonto asked what he meant by “not shovel-ready.”

“You wouldn’t be able to build something there needing any kind of foundation,” he said. “It’s a state Superfund site. You don’t want to harm anybody and you don’t want to pierce the ground once they cap it off because what’s underground, they intend to be there for essentially forever. They’re abandoned in place, sealed.”

He added the city has some plans for the property.

“We expect we’ll be able to use that for some of our above-ground operations, brush piles, things like that. Once we take a look at what it’s going to look like when we’re done and they offer it to us, no cost to us, no obligation to us, we’ll look at that and see if we want add that to our streets operations,” he said.

Woodbury noted the property is still owned by a private individual, but that person has agreed to environmental easements for this cleanup, which may allow the DEC to lease the property to the city for a dollar.

He noted any work on the property can only be done from the ground up and due to risk of exposure, it is only recommended for activities that do not keep people on the land for extended periods of time.

“The Love Canal was the first Superfund site. That’s not by any means cleaned up; it’s sealed. Forevermore it will be there. At Love Canal, they built a school on top of a place like this. We don’t want anything like that, so it’s never going to be part of a school. It could safely be part of street operations. We could move brush around there and not disturb anything underground,”

Bamonto suggested a parking lot or basketball court. Woodbury said putting asphalt on top would be acceptable, just not digging a foundation.

“Well at least that gives us an idea of what can and can’t go there because before this we thought we were going to market it for development,” Bamonto said.

Woodbury said the DEC was granted and extension to continue work at the site into the spring, noting the reason for the longer timeframe is because contamination was worse than predicted.

Al Tech Specialty Steel manufactured stainless steel rods and wires at the 100-109 Lucas Ave. plant for nearly 100 years before closing 16 years ago. The DEC classified the site as a Class 2 for its contamination with chromium, polychlorinated biphenyls, trichloroethene, PCB aroclor 1260, arsenic, cyanides, lead and petroleum products.

Once the remediation is done the DEC will issue a Final Engineering Report which will describe the cleanup activities completed and certify that cleanup requirements have been achieved or will be achieved. Woodbury suggested having the person from the DEC supervising the project present to the DPW Committee on the site.