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GM site redevelopment frustrations grow

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MASSENA - Officials are pressuring the owner of the General Motors Powertrain site to release more information about redevelopment efforts there.

Frustrations continue to grow locally over the amount of information provided by the GM site owner, the Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response Trust. Each month, RACER officials attend meetings of the North Country Redevelopment Task Force, an advisory group of local officials concerned about that site.

While the task force offers input, RACER makes the final decisions on selling the site.

Task force members have repeatedly called on RACER to provide more information on its redevelopment efforts. RACER officials have, in turn, said that confidentiality agreements were necessary in order to successfully negotiate with prospective companies.

That argument doesn’t suffice with task force members, who reiterate their frustrations at each monthly meeting.

“Obviously we’re not being privy to the people you are talking to,” Mayor James F. Hidy said at Thursday’s meeting. “We’re in the dark here.”

Mr. Hidy said he wishes he could help RACER promote the site, but the lack of information prevents from doing so.

“Do you understand the frustration that’s up here? I don’t think you do,” he told RACER officials. “We as elected representatives try to tell our folks ‘Hang in there and there’s promise,’ and we don’t see any.”

Gary S. Bowitch, an environmental attorney retained by St. Lawrence County, formally requested to meet with RACER’s counsel to review its confidentiality policy and see if more redevelopment details can be disclosed.

“I would like to know the parameters of what it means,” he said. “We want a little more detail.”

Patricia Spitzley, RACER’s assistant redevelopment manager, said the trust has signed between six and 12 confidentiality agreements for parties interested in the Massena site, but that no potential companies or developers had visited the property in the last two months. She stood by the necessity of disclosing little about companies, and said breaking confidentiality could be a deal-breaker.

“It would be irresponsible for me to talk about a prospect we haven’t fully vetted,” she said. “I will not and I cannot provide specific information.”

Others at Thursday’s meeting were convinced RACER could release more. Anne E. Kelly, project manager for the Environmental Protection Agency, said she occasionally has discussions with prospective companies about the condition of the Superfund site. Those conversations leave her optimistic about the site’s future, and she wonders why RACER does not report more of that outward.

“There has to be a way for the community to get something,” she said.

The frustration may prompt Mr. Hidy and Supervisor Joseph D. Gray to stop attending task force meetings, they said afterward.

“There’s no reason to sit in those meetings anymore,” Mr. Hidy said.

“At some point, hiding behind the cloak of confidentiality wears thin,” Mr. Gray said.

Ms. Spitzley said RACER’s efforts to market the site are continuing. She plans to promote the site at an upcoming aerospace and aviation supply chain summit in Montreal. RACER is also organizing a marketing event in Massena Oct. 18 at the New York Power Authority’s Frank S. McCullough Jr. Hawkin’s Point Visitor’s Center.

M. Brendan Mullen, RACER cleanup manager, said he also was frustrated with the ongoing tension between RACER and the community.

“It’s no joy for Patricia to come on month after month and take this kind of treatment,” he said. “There’s as much frustration internally as there is on the ground. We’ve got a job to do. That job is to clean up the site and position it for redevelopment.”

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