Agreement expected this summer for $69-$200M Bethlehem Steel cleanup

May 19, 2021

Final plans for the environmental cleanup of perhaps the most contaminated portion of the former Bethlehem Steel site in Lackawanna are getting close. State officials told a public virtual meeting Tuesday evening that the Department of Environmental Conservation wants to have an agreement this summer.

The agreement would come after decades of planning and cover the cleanup of around 500 acres of the site on Lake Erie. A cleaned-up Smokes Creek runs through the property on the way to the lake.

An aerial photo of the property, circa 1980s.
Credit New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

The property is filled with some of the worst chemical contaminants coming out of industrial factories. For years, wells across this swath of steel-making waste dumped into the lake have pumped water into a treatment plant to remove chemicals.

Much of the contamination will stay on the site, sealed in a grassed-over container on the property. State rules say there will be deed restrictions so the site can never be used for residential housing because the site will remain contaminated.

State Health Department Project Manager Sara Bogardus outlined the required institutional insurance and controls.

"It includes monitoring of soil sediment and ground water, surface water to evaluate effectiveness of the remedies, evaluate the potential for exposures and also approve monitoring of the site cover and effectiveness, as well as evaluation for any future residential structures," Bogardus said.

A study done for owner Tecumseh cited cleanup costs well over $200 million, but DEC Project Manager Stanley Radon said state estimates are much lower.

"The department took the McArthur study and used that as a foundation and has built upon that and added some additional requirements," Radon said. "The department's estimate for remediation, as we have it outlined in our statement, is closer to $69 million. All of these numbers are highly subject to change, plus or minus."

Smokes Creek dredging was completed in the summer of 2015.
Credit New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

A key goal is to establish a connection between Lackawanna and Lake Erie, using a corridor along Smokes Creek. The city never had a waterfront because the steel plant construction started before the city was created.

"There's no more economic impact, really, coming out of that site," said state Sen. Sean Ryan. "So we would like our waterfront back. It's so great to see the plan re-connects Smokes Creek to the community and that people from the First Ward (in Buffalo) and Bethlehem Park neighborhoods will be able to walk, not drive, simply walk across to access and follow Smokes Creek."