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Lyons Falls school pulled from Lewis County tax auction

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LYONS FALLS — Learning a lesson from last year’s tax auction, Lewis County legislators have pulled a delinquent tax property from the upcoming auction.

Last year a $1,559.56 delinquent tax bill sent a former Greig gas station to auction, where a high bidder offered $8,000 for the site. When it was later discovered the property had environmental issues to address, the county was left footing the bill as the purchaser backed out.

That mistake won’t happen again this year.

The former Lyons Falls Elementary School, 6832 McAlpine St., won’t be heading to the auction block.

“There’s a potential for contamination from asbestos inside,” said Legislator Philip C. Hathway, R-Harrisville. Exterior contamination also is a strong possibility, he said.

Robert Rustad Syversen owns the property under the name “Robert Rustad: Syversen Estate,” and owes $8,474.92 in taxes on the property. According to Lewis County Real Property records, Mr. Syversen purchased the 16,032-square-foot building Dec. 14, 2011, for $250,000.

The unpaid taxes are not the only looming issues for Mr. Syversen and his estate.

In December 2011, the county’s code enforcement officers received a complaint that the old school, closed by the South Lewis Central School District in 1982, was occupied and may have had some type of heater inside.

Timothy R. Widrick, a county code enforcement officer, investigated and was denied access to the building. Though children believed to be Mr. Syversen’s were seen on the property, Mr. Syversen denied he was the owner or was living there.

An injunction was filed to allow code enforcement to inspect the premises. An inspection disclosed that Mr. Syversen and his family were living there despite several code infractions.

The property is not zoned for residential use.

The county took legal action to remove the family from the premises.

State Supreme Court Justice Charles C. Merrell ruled the county could evict the Syversens. Mr. Syversen then filed an appeal.

The case is awaiting a verdict in the Appellate Division of the Fourth Judicial District in Rochester.

Stephen W. Litwhiler, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said, “There are no environmental easements for the property that we are aware of.”

DEC records indicate that Lewis County applied for an environmental cleanup program for the school’s address.

The application’s “known contaminants” section, however, is left blank. The document acknowledges a “suspected petroleum spill” and asbestos.

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