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Work on Collins property will not begin this year

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HEUVELTON – Rehabilitation of the former Collins property, left unusable after a petroleum spill in the early 1980’s, will not begin this year despite the likelihood of the project receiving state funding.

At Wednesday’s public hearing regarding the project Peter S. Ouderkirk, with the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Division of Environmental Remediation, said there is a “zero percent” chance of getting started this year.

Because the public comment period is coming to an end on March 25, it doesn’t give the DEC the time they need to process the paperwork and apply for funding before the beginning of the optimal weather conditions for rehabilitating the site.

Mr. Ouderkirk said any work would need to be undertaken beginning in April, taking advantage of as many hot, summer days as possible.

But the project is moving ahead.

The plot in question was formerly owned by Clarence J. Collins Real Estate Development Co. until, in April 2007, the town of Oswegatchie took ownership of the property. But up until the mid-1980’s the plot, located at 7610 route 68, was owned by a series of petroleum companies including Atlantic Fuels, Ultramar Petroleum Inc., Augsbury Corporation, Gulf Oil Corporation and Esso Standard Oil Corporation.

Until their removal in the mid-1980’s, a collection of steel tanks was located on the plot, housing gasoline, kerosene and fuel oil.

It was a gasoline spill that contaminated the site, Mr. Ouderkirk said, and the DEC estimates it will cost $1.9 million to clean it up.

Because the spill has sat for so long – it wasn’t until the town of Oswegatchie took ownership of the plot that anyone attempted to clean it up – the contamination has sank underground.

Mr. Ouderkirk said the contamination lies between four and eight feet under the surface of the ground.

“It doesn’t really look like much,” Mr. Ouderkirk said of the site today, adding that you can’t even smell gasoline.

But pull up a soil sample, Mr. Ouderkirk said, and it’s a different story.

To clean up the site the DEC is proposing a process known as “mechanical aeration.” In essence, the DEC wants to dig up the contaminated soil, expose it to oxygen and “bugs,” Mr. Ouderkirk said.

“We’re interjecting oxygen; getting the soil fluffed to allow natural biological activity to destroy the compounds that are in there,” Mr. Ouderkirk said, adding that this process will not require new soil to be trucked in.

The project will require 24,450 tons of earth be excavated and exposed to the elements.

“The experience we’ve had with this technology,” Mr. Ouderkirk said, is that “we’re able to meet unrestricted conditions. When you test it, it shows nothing.”

Although the property is

currently in a commercially zoned area, Mr. Ouderkirk said, “Our goal is to get it to the highest level of possible future use.”

In order to fund the project Mr. Ouderkirk said the DEC is looking into several state grants and will also try tracking down previous owners to get them to cover the cost of cleaning up the land.

Mr. Ouderkirk said, in the eyes of the state, “anybody that’s ever owned or operated on the site is a potentially responsible party.”

Regardless of where the money comes from – if it ever arrives – once the town of Oswegatchie has been granted a “Record of Decision” by the DEC saying that the state has been made aware of the contamination, the town will not be liable for any of the cleanup fees.

The Record of Decision will also hold the state liable, not the town, for any health problems caused by the contamination.

If the DEC cannot find any funding for the project, said Mr. Ouderkirk, “It’s going to sit,” unless the contamination becomes an immediate health threat.

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