CANTON - After years of delays, St. Lawrence County is expected to take title within weeks to the 54-acre former Jones & Laughlin Steel Co. property in the Adirondack Park so it can be subdivided and the portion that is not heavily contaminated can be reused.
“Having ownership will be a big step,” according top Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction, who represents the town of Clifton, where J&L is located. “It seems to go at a snail’s pace, but we have to do it right. We have to do our due diligence so we do not have a liability. These things are so complex.”
In 2013, the state Department of Environmental Conservation issued a record of decision on 18 acres of the J&L property that determined it had minimal problems. The agency’s requirement for its reuse includes restricting its future purposes for commercial ventures, restricting groundwater use, maintaining a cover on the site — such as pavement or a foot of clean soil or vegetation — and having a management plan.
The 18 acres is made up of three parcels. A 5.8-acre plot consists of a former parking lot and vehicle wash station near Route 3 and County Route 60. A second parcel across Route 3 of 6.34 acres is woods and a tailing pile from previous mining operations. A mine construction camp also was in the area in the 1940s. The last nearby parcel of 5.86 acres consists of an active electrical substation, overhead power lines, a concrete road and a pond.
In August, the county reached an administrative settlement with the DEC and the Environmental Protection and Spill Compensation Fund under which the county paid $18,900 in return for it not being held responsible for the cost of cleaning up any pre-existing contamination and for its cooperation with continued remediation.
With assurance that it will not take on liability problems, the county will foreclose on the property for failure to pay taxes.
“The benefit of the county taking title to the whole thing is we would have control,” County Attorney Michael C. Crowe said.
With the title in its name, the county will be able to subdivide the 18 acres from the remainder and likely designate a lead agency, presumably the county Industrial Development Agency because it handles economic development for the county, to market its reuse.
“We’ve had different opportunities over the years that have come and gone,” Mr. Morrill said.
The ability to reuse part of the property gives it equal footing with other parcels that have access to rail, water and fiber-optic lines, said town of Fine Supervisor Mark C. Hall, a member of the IDA.
“You have to find somebody looking for that niche who wants to be in the park,” he said. “Being that it is zoned industrial, I don’t see it being a disadvantage to be in the park.”
The county and the state agencies will determine under what context further remediation of the remaining 36 acres can continue, such as designation as a Superfund site. In 2012, the IDA was awarded $175,000 through the Regional Economic Development Council toward the removal of blighted buildings at the site. The IDA is looking for funding to match the grant award, Mr. Hall said.
“It’s baby steps, but we keep moving forward,” he said.