National Grid grant to evaluate site cleanup, shovel-ready status
by Christian W. Peck
Public Information Officer
Niagara County Public Information Office
An abandoned site that once housed a herbicide manufacturer and required extensive environmental remediation more than a decade ago may be able to return to the active rolls if new studies find the clean-up was successful, town of Somerset and Niagara County officials announced today.
The new studies of the former Barker Chemical site in Somerset would be funded by a $25,000 grant provided by National Grid, which county lawmakers are set to give the OK for formal acceptance at a Tuesday night meeting of the County Legislature's Administration Committee.
Niagara County Legislator John Syracuse, R-Newfane, said the grant - much like a similar grant, also from National Grid, that allowed county and state officials to declare a site in Cambria one of the first truly "shovel-ready" sites in New York state earlier this month - would be used to fund phase II environmental site assessment of the 10-acre parcel. The phase II ESA would involve analysis of soil, groundwater and surface water samples - all necessary so that the county can foreclose on the property and return it to the tax rolls.
"The Niagara County Center for Economic Development has been monitoring the Barker Chemical site for over 10 years now, since 1999," Syracuse explained, noting that heavy rehabilitation work had been required at that time. "The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation removed approximately 2,750 tons of contaminated soil, 3,200 tons of sludge, and almost half a million gallons of contaminated water at a cost of more than $1.2 million since then."
Syracuse noted that town and county officials were concerned that the DEC had been unable to declare the site fully cleaned to local leaders' satisfaction, but that the county's Brownfield Development Corp. was hopeful the new environmental site assessment would find all or part of the parcel ready to be returned to use as a commercial or light industrial site without requiring further remediation.
Syracuse said that a close partnership had formed between himself and Town Supervisor Dan Engert, R-Somerset, with both men working at their respective levels of government to move the site evaluation and remediation process forward.
"This is all a serious attempt to get this site cleaned up and turn it back onto the tax rolls for potential businesses to invest in," Syracuse said. "I've been working with Supervisor Engert in an effort to regain, recapture this property for the benefit of taxpayers within Niagara County."
Engert concurred, noting he wanted to see a productive use of the site that both returned it to the tax rolls and potentially created jobs in Somerset.
"Let's face it: right now the focus is on economic development," Engert said. "Economic development opportunities in the town are limited. This is a site that's been largely abandoned since the early 1970s, and it's important to the town to remedy this and get sites ready for economic development opportunities."
Barker Chemical Corp., which owned the site, located at 8473 W. Somerset Road, manufactured, warehouse and distributed fungicide and herbicide from facilities located on the parcel from 1930 to the early 1970s. Barker Chemical subsequently went bankrupt and the site sat idle - and contaminated - until remediation efforts began in 1999.
Engert noted that he and Syracuse had devoted considerable time to the Barker Chemical site, after state DEC officials in 2010 had refused to assure county and town leaders that the site's contamination had been fully mitigated. The DEC suggested in a July 2010 letter that the phase II ESA was the only way to properly evaluate the site.
"They left some questions to be answered as to whether it was ready for certification as a shovel-ready site," Engert said. "There was an opportunity, by working closely with Legislator Syracuse and the county, to pursue a grant through National Grid. We were successful in doing that."
Engert expressed gratitude to National Grid for investing in the community's economy and environment, and praised his partners at the county level.
"The Niagara County Center for Economic Development, Legislator Syracuse, and certainly National Grid have given our town a real opportunity to close this chapter and start a new one," Engert said. "At the end of the day, this grant hopefully will pave the way to restore this site to 'ready' status for economic development opportunities."
Engert said he and Syracuse shared a simple philosophy about the Barker Chemical site.
"What's important is that potential buyers and potential investors in that property are assured that the land there is safe for them to develop - and that it's safe for our community," Engert said.
While Engert and Syracuse said they are optimistic that the phase II ESA would declare the site ready for redevelopment, he said county leaders would address any contamination issues that might still plague the site."
In the event that additional work is required to make this site ready for redevelopment, we'll explore those options for addressing the additional site requirements," Syracuse vowed.