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J&L plan proceeds

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STAR LAKE — The state Department of Environmental Conservation has proposed no cleanup necessary for 18 acres of the otherwise heavily polluted Jones & Laughlin Steel Co. property, but eventual reuse of the site — one of the few zoned industrial in the Adirondack Park — faces continued hurdles.

“I’m positive we’re making progress. It’s part of the process they have to go through,” said Fine town Supervisor Mark C. Hall, a member of the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency. “As with everything else, there’s so many complexities.”

DEC will have a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. March 12 at the Ranger School in Wanakena to discuss its plan for the 18 acres. DEC will accept written comments through March 29. Project documents are available at the Fine Municipal Building, Star Lake.

DEC recommendations include restricting the site’s future use to commercial, restricting groundwater use, maintaining a cover on the site — such as pavement or a foot of clean soil or vegetation — and a management plan.

After the 45-day comment period, DEC could issue a record of decision.

“It can go out shortly thereafter depending on the comments and unless there are substantive questions that need to be addressed,” DEC spokesman Stephen W. Litwhiler said.

DEC is not calling for any further work at the site because no significant environmental impact was found in the soil, sediment or groundwater. Polychlorinated biphenyls were found slightly above DEC’s unrestricted soil cleanup objectives but were well below the commercial use standard. Limited metals contamination was noted in groundwater that was above standards.

The 18 acres were carved away from the overall 54-acre site — once used to mine and process iron ore — so it might be dealt with separately as a less polluted part of the property. The remainder is destined to become a Superfund site. Primary contaminants include fuel oil, metals, PCBs, solvents and asbestos.

The 18 acres is made up of three parcels in the town of Clifton. 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 was also 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.

After the record of decision is issued, the next challenge will be for the county to obtain a release of liability and to subdivide the property from the remaining 36 acres so it can be available for development.

“My understanding is until we get a release of liability we can’t do much,” said Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction, who represents the area. “We’re working on that. We shouldn’t have any liability because we didn’t pollute it.”

Even though the county was once the titled owner of the property so it could sell it to a Canadian developer now deceased, legislators have been wary of taking ownership of the property again because of Article 12 of the state’s Navigation Law. Under the law, owners may be held responsible for the cleanup cost on their property even if they were not responsible for the contamination.

The county would like to take title to the 18 acres without the remainder of the property or receive a release of liability on the entire property and then split off the less contaminated parcel.

“That’s the issue,” Mr. Morrill said. “Then something could happen.”

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