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St. Lawrence County takeover of J&L clears a hurdle

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CANTON — A portion of the former Jones & Laughlin Steel Co. site may be on a fast track to reuse under a pending agreement between St. Lawrence County and state agencies.

Legislators unanimously approved an arrangement with the state Monday that will give the county a release of liability for contamination at the 54-acre parcel, paving the way for a subdivision of the property and future development of the minimally contaminated portion.

“I keep saying we’re moving forward,” said Fine Town Supervisor Mark C. Hall, a member of the county Industrial Development Agency. “This would be a leap forward if this works.”

Details of the settlement and consent order were not revealed and legislators took their vote in executive session.

Legislators still must approve the deal at a full board meeting, and the state Department of Environmental Conservation and other agencies have a final sign-off.

“Until it’s final, it’s extremely sensitive. There’s never been this type of settlement,” said Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction, chairman of the Finance Committee. “It means we’re working toward an agreement.”

Earlier this year, DEC issued a record of decision on 18 acres of the J&L property that showed it had minimal contamination. The remainder of the property may become a Superfund site, but a cleanup of the 18 acres is not needed. The record of decision includes certain restrictions, including development for commercial or industrial use only, periodic certification of institutional and engineering requirements and a site management plan.

The 18 acres is made up of three parcels in the town of Clifton. A 5.8-acre plot consists of a former parking lot and vehicle wash station near Route 3 and County Route 60. A second parcel across Route 3 of 6.34 acres is woods and a tailing pile from previous mining operations. A mine construction camp was also in the area in the 1940s. The last nearby parcel of 5.86 acres consists of an active electrical substation, overhead power lines, a concrete road and a pond.

The administrative settlement in the works would allow the county to foreclose and take title to the entire property to further its remediation and return it to a useful purpose without worrying about whether the state will hold the county responsible for cleanup costs because it is in the chain of ownership.

The county previously took title to the property so it could transfer it to its last known owner, a Canadian developer now deceased, making legislators particularly interested in the release of liability.

Officials have argued that J&L is a unique property deserving of environmental action as it has long been a blight and is one of only a few properties zoned industrial in the Adirondack Park.

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