October 10, 2009
Rosen site deal faces challenges
Access agreement first hurtle in proposed recycling center project
Development of a polluted former industrial site on the city’s South End hinges on forging an agreement between city lawmakers and two local businessmen who want to convert the property to a recycling center for construction waste.
Jerry Contento and Vincent Patriarco asked Common Council members Tuesday for an exclusive access option on the city-owned site for a two-year period.
The developers have proposed a $5.5 million recycling facility for construction and demolition debris on the Rosen Superfund site off Pendleton Street.
Aldermen will discuss the project and the agreement at their next meeting Oct. 20.
“I think this can be done, but I believe there are a lot of details that have to be ironed out,” city attorney Larry Knickerbocker said Thursday.
Specifics of the access agreement have to be settled, he said, and the city would need to craft a long-term lease for the property that would protect it from any liability posed by pollution on the 18.6 acre parcel.
Knickerbocker said the city has to avoid tying its hands by limiting access and shutting out any potential buyer that could emerge over the course of the agreement. At the same time, he acknowledged the site has generated little development interest.
Contento said he and Patriarco need time to not only study and plan the project, but also to secure state and federal grant funding that could take 18 months to receive, he said.
Grants are available for such projects from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and other organizations, he said.
“We don’t mind investing our time and money, but we need a commitment on an access agreement for the property,” Contento said.
The project would be located on the site that formerly housed the Wickwire Bros. foundry and then the Rosen Bros. waste chemical processing facility. Due to illegal dumping and soil contamination, the site was declared a federal Superfund site in 1989.
A subsequent cleanup removed thousands of tons of waste, including steel, chemicals, tainted soil and an underground storage tank. Almost five acres of the site were permanently capped in 2002 and remain unusable. As proposed, the project would cover approximately 13 or 14 acres, Contento said.
The city bought the property for $1 in March 2003 from a bankruptcy court trustee overseeing the estate of Philip and Deborah Rosen, who filed for bankruptcy on Aug. 11, 1983.
The city filed the deed for the property April 28 of this year after waiting for the transfer of environmental liens on the property, which took longer than expected, Knickerbocker said.
As proposed, the facility would accept materials such as wood, asphalt, concrete, brick, drywall, roofing and metal. These materials would be separated, then ground or crushed for resale as products such as top soil, compost, hardfill, ground concrete for backfill or road bases and wood pellets.
Contento said he could establish a retail operation, but would prefer to sell in bulk to wholesalers or contractors who would use the recycled materials directly.
Contento said local sources in the city, county and adjacent areas would likely generate 80 to 90 tons of construction and demolition debris per day, but that the Rosen site project would be built to handle 250 tons per day. Current plans include construction of a 40,000-square-foot building in which materials would be separated, along with a 42,000-square foot, three-sided storage building.
“Rather than be underbuilt and have to change, we want to be up to speed,” he said. “The numbers don’t work at 100 tons per day, but they do work when you get into higher tonnage and when you have outside help” in the form of grants.
“We’ll have to get customers, but I’ve been in the solid waste business for 25 years,” Contento said.
At the Common Council’s Tuesday night meeting, Patriarco noted that this project and other nearby recycling operations — the county facility across the street and Contento’s adjacent scrap metal business, and the Contento office building with its access to the Rosen site — would enhance each other. And because stricter DEC regulations governing recycling permits and waste management are in the works, “Doing this type of project puts Cortland in front of all of this — people will have to come to you,” Patriarco said.
The project would also help area municipalities by keeping these materials out of local landfills, and would specifically help Cortland by putting a contaminated Superfund site back into productive use, the partners said.
Still, Knickerbocker said the city has to protect itself from exposure to pollution issues associated with the site. As a superfund site, the property is subject to conditions on development that include a ban on conducting excavation or other activities that could disturb the surface above the pollution cap.
A lease between the city and developers would have to insure the city from any liability, he said.
“There’s this membrane there and if that for some reason got broken through, then (they) would have to be the one to resolve that and any mitigation that results,” he said.
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