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Future of Bethlehem Steel site coming into focus

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Mon, Oct 29th 2018 03:05 pm
A view of the Shoreline Trail looking toward Odell and Dona streets in Lackawanna.
A view of the Shoreline Trail looking toward Odell and Dona streets in Lackawanna.
Poloncarz, Higgins, Hochul, Ryan, Szymanski join to officially open new Shoreline Trail, announce beginning of Dona Street extension at Bethlehem site
On-site rail removal completed - first public road ever into site to be constructed in ongoing redevelopment
The rebirth of Lackawanna's Bethlehem Steel site continues to gain momentum with the opening of the newest section of the Shoreline Trail on the site, an approximately 6,500-foot-long, 10-foot-wide stretch that runs from the City of Buffalo line to Dona Street in Lackawanna.
Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz was joined Monday by Congressman Brian Higgins, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, Assemblyman Sean Ryan, City of Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski, and representatives from Empire State Development and the Erie County Industrial Development Agency to officially open the trail - and announce the next phase of continuing infrastructure development at the site. The first-ever public road on the Bethlehem site will soon be constructed with an entrance across from Dona Street to allow for motor and truck traffic, improving both public and business access as the site's transformation continues.
"I am very proud to see the first part of my vision for the future of the former Bethlehem Steel site open today: an extension of the Shoreline Trail, which will be a green gateway to a modern, high-tech business park here in Lackawanna," Poloncarz said. "Today we will also be breaking ground on the extension of Dona Street into the site in order to truly open up this location for future economic development.
"I thank all of our partners in local, state and federal government who helped to make today a reality. Bethlehem Steel may have closed up 36 years ago, but the future of this site looks brighter today - and now the public can see it for themselves as they enjoy the new Shoreline Trail and get a glimpse of what lies ahead here."
Higgins said, "With this project and others planned at the former Bethlehem Steel site, we continue efforts to advance Western New York's image from one that is old and industrial to a community that is vibrant, forward-thinking and one that embraces our history and natural resources as an important component of building a better future."
The first phase of the approximately $1.8 million Shoreline Trail project was funded through a combination of the New York State Department of Transportation -Transportation Alternatives Program, federal Community Development Block Grant ("CDBG"), and Erie County bond funding.
Among the features trail users will notice along the new stretch are an iron "button," a 50-ton leftover of the steelmaking process that was retrieved from the rear of the property and will now be displayed with informational signage along the trail, and an above-ground, industrial gas pipe installed by Bethlehem Steel to supply natural gas to the site.
The now-empty and inoperable pipe, at one time, supplied 1 million cubic feet of gas a day to fuel steelmaking needs during the plant's heyday, but is no longer in service and now will serve as industrial art and a small reminder of what used to be on the Bethlehem site.
The installation of 30 new trees, benches, Shoreline Trail way-finding signs and an interpretive sign for the iron button will mark the conclusion of phase one. Phase two of the Shoreline Trail Project will involve further extension of the trail to reach Woodlawn State Beach Park in the Town of Hamburg.
"It's great to see a recreational use come to what has been an industrial site for decades," Ryan said. "This trail will help to better connect Lackawanna to our region's extensive trail system and will help to draw new businesses to Lackawanna. It's great to see improvements being made to the Bethlehem Steel site, and I look forward to seeing it's continued development."
Szymanski said, "Lackawanna is becoming a site that businesses want to come to, with jobs and investment building on the developments here at the Bethlehem Steel site. As this site continues to improve, more jobs and more investment will come here and help to create a better city and county for years to come."
Phase two involved extensive rail removal and relocation work at the site, removing 16,000 feet of rail that ran perpendicular to Dona Street (parallel to Route 5) and prevented the extension of Dona Street into the site while also constructing a new, 3,000-foot West Harbor lead track to provide better service to the Port of Buffalo, along with the reconstruction and installation of approximately 8,500 feet of new track at the Coke Yard for use as rail storage.
Erie County completed phase one of the rail relocation and improvements project in 2014. This $4.4 million project opened up the property for redevelopment by removing rail tracks that no longer served a purpose, but were hindering access to the site, and was funded through grants from the NYSDOT multimodal program and National Grid.
The Dona Street extension will construct the first public road ever into the site. The $2.2 million project, funded entirely by Erie County, will involve construction of an approximately 1,600-foot road with three lanes exiting the property. The road will be built to City of Lackawanna standards and will include LED streetlights, fire hydrants and sidewalks, as well as a deep culvert and public railroad crossing. The intersection at Route 5 will also be upgraded with all new signal poles, signals and crosswalks. The extension project is targeted for completion in the spring of 2019.
The redevelopment of the Bethlehem steel site was identified by Poloncarz in his "Initiatives for a Smart Economy" as a top priority for Erie County, as well as the City of Lackawanna. Its close proximity to major local roads and the interstate thruway, as well as to rail and shipping traffic at the Port of Buffalo, make it a unique site in the Northeast and ideal for revitalization. The site's redevelopment also aligns Erie County efforts with the economic development strategies of the WNY Regional Economic Development Council.
Historical background on the Bethlehem Site:
1899: The Lackawanna Steel Co., based in Scranton, Pennsylvania, purchases all the waterfront land from the Town of West Seneca
1903: The Lackawanna Steel Co. starts operations at its new plant
1909: Residents vote to split from West Seneca and form the City of Lackawanna
1922: Bethlehem Steel Corp. acquires all assets of the Lackawanna Steel Co. for $60 million
1941: The U.S. enters World War II; the Lackawanna plant shifts focus from automotive to the war production industry, focusing on U.S. military ships and tanks; during WWII, the Lackawanna plant becomes the world's largest steelmaking operation
25,000 workers were employed at the plant during its peak
1,300 acres of land were utilized by plant operations
7 million: amount of building square feet at the Lackawanna plant
27 miles of railroad track were in use at the site
In 1977, foreign steel imports caused the start of reductions in U.S. steel production
In 1983, Bethlehem Steel closed the Lackawanna plant; at that time the fourth-largest steel mill in the world
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz (left), Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, Congressman Brian Higgins, Assemblyman Sean Ryan and Lackawanna Mayor Geoff Szymanski (in hardhat) join Erie County Legislator Lynne Dixon, Lackawanna councilmembers, residents and Deputy Erie County Executive Maria Whyte to officially open the Shoreline Trail at the Bethlehem site.

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