August 22, 2008

Waste Issue Clouds Village-Owned Site

By Fred O. Williams

A foe of a proposed apartment complex in the Village of Orchard Park has unearthed environmental concerns about the village-owned site, which is used for waste storage by the Public Works Department.

Theodore Backus, whose home on Thorn Avenue abuts the site, said he suspects the village wants to unload the land in order to duck a possible cleanup bill, a charge village officials deny.

"They're trying to make the headache someone else's," he said. "They don't know what's there."

The 3.5-acre site on West Highland Avenue, across from the village public works garage, would be home to a 43-unit senior apartment building, under a proposal by People Inc.

The site is currently used for storage of gravel and construction debris like concrete and old water lines that are awaiting reuse or disposal, Deputy Mayor Stephen Bray said.

Backus says that makes the site a dump, and potentially a dirty one.

As backup, he cites a report by Lender Consulting Services in 2002 that he obtained through Freedom of Information requests. Lender's initial or "Phase I" review found an apparent spill of tar or sealant and discolored water.

Based on that report, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development urged a Phase II -- or more detailed -- investigation of the site, which was then under consideration for another apartment building. HUD rejected funding when a Phase II wasn't performed.

However, in a follow-up letter to HUD appealing the rejection, Lender characterized the possible problem as superficial. "LCS considers this more of a housekeeping issue as opposed to a Phase II assessment," it said. Debris should be disposed of -- including scrap metal, concrete, brush and asphalt -- and a second look taken, the letter said.

Bray discounted the possibility that village construction debris has caused below-ground contamination. If so, it will be uncovered by environmental review before the apartment building goes forward.

If the village decides to sell the land to People Inc. -- a decision which is on hold for now -- the sale contract would assign responsibility for any cleanup that becomes necessary, he said. The site would also face a zoning change process to qualify for an apartment building.

Rhonda Frederick, chief operating officer for People Inc., said agency officials were unaware of the earlier environmental assessment. Her agency would also perform a Phase I review to see what potential problems might need to be addressed.

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Originally published by NEWS STAFF REPORTER.

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