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Agreement expected this summer for $69-$200M Bethlehem Steel cleanup

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

Final plans for theenvironmental cleanupof perhaps the most contaminated portion of the former Bethlehem Steel site in Lackawanna are getting close. State officials told apublic virtual meeting Tuesdayevening that the Department of Environmental Conservation wants to have an agreement this summer.

The agreement would come after decades of planning and cover the cleanup of around 500 acres of the site on Lake Erie. A cleaned-up Smokes Creek runs through the property on the way to the lake.

The property is filled with some of the worst chemical contaminants coming out of industrial factories. For years, wells across this swath of steel-making waste dumped into the lake have pumped water into a treatment plant to remove chemicals.

Much of the contamination will stay on the site, sealed in a grassed-over container on the property. State rules say there will be deed restrictions so the site can never be used for residential housing because the site will remain contaminated.

State Health Department Project Manager Sara Bogardus outlined the required institutional insurance and controls.

"It includes monitoring of soil sediment and ground water, surface water to evaluate effectiveness of the remedies, evaluate the potential for exposures and also approve monitoring of the site cover and effectiveness, as well as evaluation for any future residential structures," Bogardus said.

A study done for owner Tecumseh cited cleanup costs well over $200 million, but DEC Project Manager Stanley Radon said state estimates are much lower.

"The department took the McArthur study and used that as a foundation and has built upon that and added some additional requirements," Radon said. "The department's estimate for remediation, as we have it outlined in our statement, is closer to $69 million. All of these numbers are highly subject to change, plus or minus."

Credit New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Smokes Creek dredging was completed in the summer of 2015.

A key goal is to establish a connection between Lackawanna and Lake Erie, using a corridor along Smokes Creek. The city never had a waterfront because the steel plant construction started before the city was created.

"There's no more economic impact, really, coming out of that site," said state Sen. Sean Ryan. "So we would like our waterfront back. It's so great to see the plan re-connects Smokes Creek to the community and that people from the First Ward (in Buffalo) and Bethlehem Park neighborhoods will be able to walk, not drive, simply walk across to access and follow Smokes Creek."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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