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GM site contractor selection process frustrates officials

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MASSENA — Local officials are disappointed with their involvement in selecting contractors to remediate the General Motors Powertrain site.

The property’s owner, the Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response Trust, is charged with remediating and redeveloping the Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site. Each month, RACER officials attend meetings of the North Country Redevelopment Task Force, an advisory group of local officials concerned about the GM site.

While those local officials can offer input, RACER makes the final decisions on remediation contractors and selling the site.

Demolition of the former automotive plant wrapped up last fall. Phase two of the remediation has begun, EPA Project Manager Anne E. Kelly said last week. That work involves removing the 20-acre, 855,000-square-foot concrete slab that once was underneath the plant, and the contaminated soils below it.

Cleanup officials said they expect that phase of work to wrap up by the end of this year. There are 21 employees on site completing the second phase, RACER cleanup manager M. Brendan Mullen said.

Approximately 70 percent of those workers are local employees, according to Mr. Mullen. RACER selected an Albany area firm, D.A. Collins, to complete that phase.

Local officials scrutinized RACER’s selection at last week’s meeting.

“You made the decision without letting us know,” businessman Real C. “Frenchie” Coupal said.

Task force members said RACER had promised to include task force chairman and County Legislator Anthony J. Arquiett directly in the selection process for the phase two contractor. Mr. Mullen refuted that claim.

“I know what I committed to and didn’t commit to,” Mr. Mullen said. “I’ve got to make the best decision based on the input of my engineers and an independent evaluation.”

Mr. Arquiett was skeptical of RACER’s pledge to work with the community as it remediates and redevelops the site.

“RACER has continually said they want the involvement from the community. Saying you want our involvement is as far as it goes,” he said. “There’s no involvement. There’s no information. There’s nothing until it’s done.”

Mr. Mullen took exception to Mr. Arquiett’s comments. RACER tries to keep local officials as involved as possible, he said.

“To say there’s no information is patently untrue,” Mr. Mullen said. “If you feel you weren’t informed enough, we can work on that.”

But confidentiality agreements prevent the trust from directly involving local officials in negotiations, he said.

“The selection of a contractor, as you know, is fraught with the potential for confidentiality lapses. We’ve got to keep it tight,” Mr. Mullen said.

“That statement would make it seem like I’m incapable of confidentiality,” Mr. Arquiett responded.

RACER also must pick the most cost-efficient contractor, Mr. Mullen said.

“We push these contractors to get as much local employment as possible. We want you to be happy,” he said.

Mr. Mullen promised to keep local officials as informed as possible of RACER decisions moving forward. Mr. Arquiett said he would research previous meeting minutes to see whether RACER promised to include him in the contractor selection process.

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