State leaders gathered in Lackawanna Tuesday to announce a court-backed plan in which the owners of former Bethlehem Steel land in Lackawanna will spend at least $35 million to remediate 489 acres for future new uses.
Under a consent order announced Tuesday morning, current landowners Tecumseh and ArcelorMittal will take the lead and pay for remediation of the sprawling property.
New York State Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos traveled to Western New York to help announce the forthcoming cleanup.
"There will be habitat improvement projects that we'll work on together with the company," he said. "There will be reimbursement of the state's costs thus far. And of course, public access to the waterfront for the first time in a century, which is an amazing thing to be able to envision."
Seggos said the state has already spent at least $20 million toward land cleanup and the companies may have to spend more beyond the $35 million defined under the agreement.
Bethlehem Steel, in its prime, employed more than 25,000 people at its vast Lackawanna operations. But when it ceased local steel production in the 1980s, the company abandoned the property.
Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who also appeared for the announcement, said many of her own family members worked at the facility. But while acknowledging the plant's economic importance, she also spoke of its environmental legacy.
"I was a little girl living in Woodlawn. I used to swim in this water," she said, referring to Lake Erie. "At the same time, at night you would see this molten lava, this glowing orange substance, being dumped into this lake. At the same time, you could not drive through Lackawanna over the former Father Baker Bridge without having to go through a cloud of orange smoke. It was astounding, the assault on our environment that took place on this very site and across the street."
Seggos said the rehabilitation of the land will take years but there will be opportunities for public comment. No public hearings have yet been scheduled, he added, noting the agreement was newly announced and in a very early stage.
"We don't expect this is going to drag on," he said. "This has already dragged on long enough, really, for the people of Lackawanna. We all have an interest in seeing this parcel redeveloped, safely cleaned up and redeveloped safely. There is some activity already on other parts of the parcel that have been successfully cleaned up. Our obligation is to go through a process, but to approach it with some some urgency so that we can protect the environment and help to rebuild the economy."