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J&L progress both pleasing and frustrating

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WANAKENA — One step forward, a half step back.

That is the story of efforts to resurrect to economic productivity the contaminated Jones & Laughlin Steel Co. property, one of a handful of industrial sites in the Adirondack Park.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is moving forward with a plan for reuse of 18 acres of the site that are minimally contaminated, but obstacles remain on addressing liability issues that prevent St. Lawrence County from taking title.

“Unfortunately, it’s not a straightforward issue,” said James E. Candiloro, a DEC environmental engineer who presided Tuesday over a public hearing at the Ranger School on the agency’s plan for the partial acreage.

DEC and the county had thought that splitting out the 18 acres and dealing with it separately from the bulk of the 54-acre site would mean the county could achieve a release of liability for any contamination on that section.

The remainder of the property is expected to become a Superfund site.

But a route to a release has not yet been found. Under state Navigation Law, owners may be held responsible for the cleanup cost on their property even if they were not responsible for the contamination, which has made the county wary.

“Liability issues preclude anyone from taking title,” Mr. Candiloro said. “They’d have to take the whole thing.”

The information frustrated the roughly two dozen people who attended the hearing.

“We’ve spent at least two years on the liability issue,” said Julie A. Lanphear, a member of the Clifton Town Council. “It really is discouraging.”

Mr. Candiloro said DEC favors a resolution that will allow partial redevelopment sooner, but has to convince the state offices of the attorney general and comptroller.

“We have our attorneys pushing their attorneys,” he said. “I think we’re finally getting some momentum on it.”

Representatives of groups that want to see J&L viable talk regularly, said Sherman L. Craig, an Adirondack Park Agency commissioner.

“There are a number of things behind the scenes that I believe will be successful,” he said. “Nobody’s going to build a Disneyland there, but there will be options.”

No one at the hearing faulted DEC’s plan for the 18 acres, which includes restricting its 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 having a management plan.

“Unless anybody objects to our proposed remediation, we should have a record of decision by April,” Mr. Candiloro said.

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