September 06 , 2007


Buckbee-Mears site growing environmental concern

Some demolition may help prevent spread of chemicals into environment.


Photo contributed by the EPA
Chemical acid is splattered on a wall and chromic acid mixing tank inside the former Buckbee-Mears factory on Kellogg Rd. The EPA is in the process of cleaning out the chemicals from the building

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — With damage from corrosive chemicals far more extensive and expansive — potentially seeping into the groundwater outside the building — than originally thought, large portions of the former Buckbee-Mears facility may need to be torn down, a federal cleanup specialist said Wednesday.
What began in February as a seemingly simple matter of numerous containers of hazardous chemicals left behind in the now-vacant building has become a far more complex cleanup that will cost more than $4 million and continue well into 2008, said Jack Harmon, the on-scene coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The original building on the site, a roughly 80,000-square-foot structure built in 1974, is especially diminished by corrosive chemicals, Harmon said, and may need to be torn down entirely, although Harmon added that much more evaluative work is needed.
The total 330,000 square-foot facility has been vacant since India-based owner International Electron Devices Ltd., shut down operations in 2005.
The most recent addition to the facility built in 1995 is still in “pretty good shape,” Harmon said, and other portions such as the administration building and warehouses are salvageable.
Still, corrosion from various dangerous chemicals, which were being piped through roughly 200,000 feet of pipe, is a concern throughout the facility.
“As the weather warmed up, the building just came to life,” Harmon said.
Warmer weather led to instances where the piping in the building first froze, then broke, spilling chemicals, Harmon said.
Chemicals, particularly ferric chloride, have reacted with leaking water and caused more extensive corrosion, he said, and black mold has developed due to increased moisture in recent months.
“The ferric chloride especially just attacks the metal, eats it away,” Harmon said, referring to a chemical that reacts unfavorably with water.
The EPA has found numerous instances where chemicals, such as sulfuric acid, have leaked through the building’s concrete and into the environment, he said.
Groundwater from sump pumps on the site has a highly acidic pH level of roughly 1, indicating that chemicals have seeped into the groundwater beneath the building.
Harmon noted that the groundwater beneath the facility is at a lower gradient from the local aquifer, meaning it does not appear to pose a threat to local drinking water.
Also, the chemicals are not particularly migratory, he said, but the EPA will need to send a special crew to the site to take groundwater and soil samples outside the facility, and to determine if the chemicals pose any threat to nearby private wells or to the Tioughnioga River.
Mayor Tom Gallagher said this morning that he didn’t believe there were any private wells near Buckbee Mears within the city limits, and that he was confident that the EPA could handle the groundwater issues.
“The EPA is a very professional organization, I know they’re going to handle it without affecting the drinking water,” Gallagher said. “I guess my biggest concern is it going down into the river.”
Harmon was hopeful that an assessment of the groundwater situation would begin this fall.
“Right now we’re looking at about 10 more months of work on the interior, and at that point we should have results from the outside assessment to see what else needs to be done,” he said.
Harmon said he had put in a request for an additional $3 million in EPA funding that would extend the cleanup until summer 2008.
That request would not include the evaluation of exterior contamination.
The additional funding would hopefully allow Harmon to double or even triple his current six-person crew, he said, which would enable him to assign specific teams to handle the various issues on the site such as the piping issues and cleaning out bulk storage tanks.
“You’re dealing with such a large building … it seems like we’re constantly finding new rooms with new problems,” Harmon said.
To date, the cleanup has cost approximately $1 million.
The EPA has said it will try to recoup the cost of the cleanup from the current owners, or through a lien that would be collected upon the sale of the property.
Harmon noted that local residents will soon be able to monitor the progress of the cleanup via the Web site
A Buckbee-Mears-specific site should be up and running by the end of next week, Harmon said.

Marketing of Buckbee-Mears site stalled with discovery of pollution

The former Buckbee-Mears factory on Kellogg Road is expected to interfere with plans to market the site for potential buyers.
Jack Harmon, the on-scene cleanup coordinator for the EPA at the Buckbee-Mears site, met Wednesday with representatives of the local Industrial Development Agency, which is considering taking control of the site to market it, and real estate agent Chris Boeres, who is marketing the site for the current owners.
Boeres and Linda Hartsock, executive director of the IDA, both said it would be difficult to market the site until the extensive cleanup work was complete.
“The best scenario right now is to have EPA do their work so ultimately we can have a property that’s been completely cleared and marketable,” Boeres said.
Boeres said he would continue to try to market the site to interested buyers, but that any sale would likely have to come after the cleanup.
“We’re talking right now about an unknown amount of time and an unknown cost, so there’s really no way to make a business decision about buying the property,” he said. “If people are interested, I think they’ll be willing to wait, because even if they do have to take down the old building, there’s going to be a lot of value left.”
Hartsock, who has advocated the IDA taking control of the property from IED, possibly by eminent domain, said any further discussion of that option is “premature at this point.”
“We’re basically at the point where we need to sit back and let the EPA take the lead,” she said.
— Corey Preston



I Live NY Summit —

Eve of conference will see town alive with performances

Staff Reporter

Music will fill the air, artists will display their work and street performers will entertain Sept. 17 on the eve of a statewide conference in the city.
It’s all part of what is being billed “Live from the Heart of NY,” a celebration of Cortland’s creative energy put on by the Cortland Downtown Partnership and the Cortland County Business Development Corp./Industrial Development Agency.
The event is a showcase for visitors participating in the Sept. 18 I Live NY Summit, to be at SUNY Cortland.
The conference sponsored by first lady Silda Spitzer will address the reasons young people leave upstate New York and explore ways to reverse the trend.
The full agenda for the summit is to be released Friday.
BDC-IDA Executive Director Linda Hartsock, who saw a preliminary agenda Wednesday afternoon, said the summit includes a lot of best-case examples of ways to attract or retain young professionals and speakers people have not traditionally heard from such as chief economic officers of performing arts centers.
More than 200 hotel rooms have been reserved for Monday from guests around the state who will participate in the summit.
“We realize Live from the Heart of NY was a great way to introduce people to Cortland and provide them with some local entertainment,” said Lloyd Purdy, executive director of the Cortland Downtown Partnership.
Hartsock and Purdy emphasized they would like to see local residents and the SUNY Cortland community join in the Sept. 17 celebration.
Members of 40 Below, a local group of young area professionals, will be volunteering to help on the streets Monday night and some will be surveying people on what they like and don’t like about living in New York.
Group member Kevin Hicks of Hark Productions will be filming people’s responses and will use the film for marketing I Live NY, Hartsock said.
“We want the community to come out that night and serve as ambassadors,” she said.

The Music

The first group listed plays from 7 to 8:30 p.m. and second group plays from 8:30 to 10 p.m.
Blues: Lucky’s, 77 Main St. Groups: Chris Merkley, Aplan & Shaw
Modern rock: Ultimate Music, 35 Main St. Groups: Tom Fury, Grain Elevator
Folk rock/blues: The Blue Frog, 64 Main St. Groups: Colleen Kattau & Night Skies, Jimmy Lawler
Instrumental: Hairy Tony’s, 112 Main St. Groups: The World’s Most Dangerous Band, Bayou Highway
Jazz: The Pocket Park, 14 Main St. Groups: Tom Bronzetti, Steve Daniels



Owners of cat clinic push city for inspection

City has until Tuesday to say why it has not inspected clinic from which it seized cats in 2006

Staff Reporter

The city will have to explain by Tuesday why it has yet to inspect the Wheeler Avenue spay and neuter clinic owned by Purr Fect World Inc., according to an order filed Friday by Supreme Court Judge Phillip Rumsey.
Rumsey, however, declined to allow the nonprofit to operate while the inspection is pending.
On Tuesday, the corporation’s attorneys, the Syracuse-based Sugarman Law Firm, appealed the order to the Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court.
The law firm did not return a phone call for comment.
Larry Knickerbocker, the city’s lawyer, speculated that Purr Fect World took issue with the denial of its request to operate prior to the inspection, but said he does not know if the case can be appealed before it has been resolved.
The city claims that the code office has been dealing with a temporary shortage of staff due to vacation and illness and that other inspections have been taking priority.
Knickerbocker said city officials would submit signed affidavits attesting to their inability to inspect by Tuesday.
Purr Fect World was ordered last week to pay the city $30,000 and the SPCA $10,000 for the care of more than 250 cats seized from the Wheeler Avenue spay and neuter clinic and adjacent house.
The city had requested about $68,000 in restitution, and the SPCA had requested almost $14,000.
The organization was charged with 49 counts of misdemeanor neglect after city police and fire officials, along with the Cortland County SPCA, raided the corporation’s house and spay and neuter clinic at 5 and 7 Wheeler Ave. on Sept. 1, 2006.
Nearly 300 cats were found on the property the day of the raid, which officials conducted after neighbors complained of feces and urine smells coming from the property.
On May 10, City Court Judge Thomas Meldrim delivered a split decision after a nonjury trial, finding Purr Fect World guilty of 28 counts of failure to provide proper food and drink to a harbored animal, an unclassified misdemeanor under the state Agriculture and Markets Law. Meldrim found Purr Fect World not guilty of 21 counts of the same charge.



In bid for longevity, foundation goes public

Cortland Community Foundation kicks off introductory fundraising campaign

Staff Reporter

After nearly 10 years as a private entity, the Cortland Savings Foundation became the nonprofit Cortland Community Foundation earlier this year, but only announced the change and kicked off fundraising Tuesday.
The conversion to a public foundation will allow the Cortland Community Foundation to accept donations from the public. As a private entity, Treasurer Mike Stapleton said, the foundation would always be limited.
“We have created a community foundation that can perpetuate itself and keep going,” Stapleton said in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. “There’s one in Syracuse, there’s one in Binghamton, but there were none that focused on Cortland.”
The Cortland Savings Foundation was created in 1998 by the now defunct Cortland Savings Bank as an autonomous agency, and an endowment of about $2 million was provided through the sale of stock in the bank’s parent company by the foundation.
But even after the original bank had been bought out by First Niagara, a sizable endowment allowed the private foundation to use the revenue from its portfolio to allocate more than $800,000 to 41 agencies since its inception.
“If we continue to make contributions of the size and frequency that we have been doing, the foundation will be gone,” Stapleton said. “The entire idea of the foundation is to maintain and increase the volume and the numbers.”
The 1890 House, Access to Independence and the Cortland County Community Action Program have all received funds from the private foundation, according to numbers provided by Mayor Tom Gallagher, vice president of the foundation.
Since 1998, the YWCA has received $35,000; the J.M McDonald Sports Complex has received a total of $74,000.
In addition, the United Way campaign has received more than $75,000 and the Cortland Regional Medical Center has received more than $125,000.