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Dec. 8, 2004

Oswego County Receives $400,000 Federal Grant to Study 'Brownfield' Sites on Oswego River

OSWEGO -- The Oswego River, which played a vital role in the settlement of Oswego County and the history of our nation, is blessed with natural resources and lovely scenery. It is also scattered with over 100 properties that may have been polluted by a hazardous substance. Old gas stations, factory buildings, dry cleaning businesses, and vacant lots with a history of chemical or petroleum contamination sit abandoned along the 23 miles of river between Three Rivers and the Oswego Harbor.

Several of those empty properties will be the focus of in-depth studies funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the next several months. The Oswego County Department of Planning and Community Development was awarded a $400,000 brownfield assessment grant to study abandoned industrial and commercial properties along the Oswego River corridor. The area includes a 1-mile strip on both sides of the river.

"The goal of this project us to stimulate economic development," said Oswego County Planning Director Brian Frazier. "Brownfields are vacant or under-utilized sites that once housed manufacturing facilities and thriving businesses. Many of these properties are in prime locations, but they are not being developed because of known or suspected contamination. The brownfields program makes funding available to study these properties, thereby relieving the financial burden on a potential developer or site owner."

The grant provided funding for the county to hire an environmental engineering consultant, ENSR of East Syracuse, to inventory and assess the sites. ENSR originally identified over 125 sites that met the EPA definition of brownfield, from the Fitzgibbons Boiler Works property near Fort Ontario to old gas stations in the village of Phoenix. County Legislator Paul Santore, District 16, Oswego, is a member of the Citizens Brownfield Advisory Committee that was appointed to prioritize the sites. He is also a member of the Legislature's Economic Development and Planning Committee, which oversees the Department of Planning and Community Development.

"This project is unique to our area," said Legislator Santore. "It's an exciting time. We're attempting to bring back into useful production sites that have been underutilized because of suspected contamination. For instance, the old Fitzgibbons Boiler property could become a recreation area and an asset to the community. It is a beautiful site, as are many along the Oswego River. The brownfield project provides money to help us look at some of those sites and develop something more meaningful and more aesthetically pleasing."

In addition to Legislator Santore, members of the citizens advisory committee include Michael Treadwell, director of Operation Oswego County, Inc.; David Turner, director of the Oswego Community Development Office; John DeHollander, director of the Oswego County Soil and Water Conservation District; Michael Benjamin, member of the Minetto Town Board; Carole Sponable, member of the Schroeppel Town Board; Greg Mills, vice president of Pathfinder Bank; Ron Edick, Fulton city engineer; Christy Carrington, assistant county attorney; and Frazier.

After several meetings and discussions with local government leaders, the initial list of over 125 sites was narrowed down to 30 and then to 14 finalists. The list is based on several factors that affect economic development and the quality of life, including potential for re-use, access to existing infrastructure, economic opportunities, and job creation.

The final 14 sites have been submitted to the EPA and the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) for their review. An environmental site assessment will be performed for each of the 14 finalists. The funding will be split among sites that are believed to have either chemical or petroleum contamination.

Sites that are on the federal or state Superfund lists are not eligible for the brownfield grant project because they are being addressed by the state and federal governments.

County Legislator Kim Seager, chairwoman of the County Legislature's Economic Development and Planning Committee, noted that the brownfields grant complements the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor project. She represents Oswego County on the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor Commission.

The Oswego River Canal and other sections of the New York State Canal System are being considered for federal funding through the canal system's designation as a National Heritage Corridor by Congress.

"The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor Commission is developing a long-term plan that combines tourism, conservation, recreation, and community development activities all along the waterway," said Legislator Seager. "The brownfields grant project will help us in this regard by cleaning up vacant and under-used property along the river. Eventually some of the brownfield properties can be re-developed and become an asset to development and recreational purposes."

In addition to Legislators Seager and Santore, members of the Economic Development and Planning Committee include Legislators Jack Beckwith, District 21, Hannibal; Barbara Brown, District 8, Palermo, Hastings, Schroeppel; Tom Bullard, District 14, Scriba; Francis Hoefer, District 19, Minetto, Oswego, Hannibal and Granby; and David Waters, District 3, Pulaski and Richland.

For more information on the Oswego River Corridor brownfields project, contact Frazier at the County Department of Planning and Community Development, phone 349-8292, or visit www.epa.gov/brownfields on the Internet.

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