The former site of Bethlehem Steel in Lackawanna is in line for (at least) an estimated $35 million cleanup, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has announced. Cuomo says that the comprehensive cleanup is thanks to a Consent Order with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), that was issued to Tecumseh Redevelopment, Inc. and its parent corporation ArcelorMittal USA – the former owners of the property, and the entities now responsible for the remediation (per the State Superfund and Corrective Action programs).
The cleanup of the site will include public access to the waterfront once the remediation is complete among other environmental and recreational benefits. This is great news considering that there is a sweeping waterfront revival afoot. There is also some important bike-ped connectivity along the waterfront underway – for example the Shoreline Trail extensions.
“This order marks a significant milestone in the revitalization of Western New York where we are turning blights of the past into economic engines of the future,” Governor Cuomo said. “The order requires the owners of the former Bethlehem Steel site to undertake a full and complete cleanup of this industrial site and to provide the community with access—for the first time in decades—to the nearby waterfront. This vacant site will once again be restored to productive use in this community, benefiting the community and the environment.”
Environmental contamination varies across the property with sections in DEC’s State Superfund Program, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act Corrective Action Program, and the Brownfield Cleanup Program.
“I was born in Lackawanna in the shadow of the Bethlehem Steel Plant, where my father and his family worked to pursue the American dream,” said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. “The industrial manufacturer made the steel that built American cities, and when they closed down in the 1980s, it was a devastating blow to the economy and jobs in the area. Like many upstate cities, with state support Lackawanna and Western New York have seen a transformation and built back better. This comprehensive cleanup of the former Bethlehem Steel site is part of our efforts to reimagine the site for the future, with public access to the waterfront, attracting new businesses and opportunities, and strengthening the economy.”
On the “new business front,” there has also been some economic progress along this significant waterfront parcel, including the recent topping off of TMP Technologies. Now, this Consent Order will go a long way towards making a significant chunk of the waterfront site habitable for recreational activities – something that the public has been pushing for for years.
Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said, “It is critically important that New York State hold responsible parties accountable for contamination at legacy sites like Bethlehem Steel to ensure these former industrial sites are cleaned up and redeveloped and once again contributing to the local economy and benefiting the community. This Consent Order requires Tecumseh and ArcelorMittalto address pollution from Bethlehem Steel’s industrial legacy and transform the region’s largest and most identifiable vacant industrial site with input from local residents.”
Tecumseh filed an Article 78 petition against DEC in October 2019. DEC was represented by the New York State Attorney General’s Office in the lawsuit. This Order resolves the lawsuit.
DEC’s Consent Order legally requires Tecumseh and ArcelorMittal, the companies that acquired the environmental liabilities of Bethlehem Steel after its bankruptcy, to:
- Complete a comprehensive remediation program that includes cleanup and monitoring of 489 acres of the former Bethlehem Steel site nearest to the Lake Erie shoreline;
- Provide closure and post-closure care for the site, including financial assurances;
- Reimburse New York State for costs incurred for oversight of the cleanup;
- Support robust public participation and engagement in developing and implementing site cleanup plans;
- Provide public access following cleanup to portions of the Lackawanna waterfront for the first time in more than 100 years; and
- Participate in a public/private partnership that will evaluate locations and designs for improving ecological habitat to restore and naturalize areas of two miles of Lackawanna’s shoreline.
In its heyday, the Bethlehem Steel footprint was 1,600 acres. Today, that land is full of opportunities that will soon, and finally, be realized. As the elevated levels of metals, oils, greases, and semi-volatile organic carbon compounds are cleaned up, the DEC will be implementing site-wide Proposed Remedial Action Plans. Cuomo shared that the draft plans will be released in coming months for public comment, including a public meeting.
It’s too bad that we lost the Bethlehem Steel Administration Building back in 2013. It would have been a great addition to this waterfront reclamation.
Lead image is from a Change.org DEC site cleanup petition that was launched in 2015.