Former Vac Air Property On Right Track

The town of Carroll and Chautauqua County are in the process of development of the former Vac Air/Keywell property located at 300 Falconer Street in Frewsburg. P-J photo by Jay Young

FREWSBURG — The former Vac Air/Keywell property located at 300 Falconer St. in Frewsburg is on the right track for development after suffering years of environmental contamination issues.

Carroll Supervisor Russ Payne was happy to announce Wednesday at a town board meeting that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has granted the town and Chautauqua County permission to proceed on development and subsequent occupation of the property.

“A developer has been selected by the county,” Payne said. “They have a preferred list and Gary Lynn met there qualifications. Gary Lynn and Lynn Development.”

Vac Air was founded in 1966, with Keywell acquiring assets in December 1987. The plant was used to recycle scrap metal, and as a result has been the source of contamination issues related to trichloroethylene (TCE).

TCE is a hazardous chemical used in the recycling process, and byproducts including TCE sludge and TCE oil were improperly disposed of at the plant starting in the 1970s.

In August of 2013 the Falconer St. plant ceased operations.

After a lengthy legal process the site eventually was deemed to meet classification “2”, which concerns areas “representing a significant threat to public health and/or the environment and requiring action,” according to the DEC website.

The DEC also states that “When the parties responsible for the contamination are known, the responsible parties often pay for and perform the investigation and evaluation of cleanup options. At sites where responsible parties cannot be found or are unable or unwilling to fund an investigation, the state pays for the investigation using money from the 1986 Environmental Quality Bond Act, also known as the State Superfund. The state may try to recover costs from a responsible party after the investigation and cleanup are complete.”

Payne was pleased to find out shortly after taking up his new position as supervisor that the site had already been deemed eligible for the superfund.

“When I came into office I was of the belief that it hadn’t been designated at all. I was seeking a superfund site,” he said.“Now I’m glad that it has been because that has taken one step out of the process. Now that it’s already been done it’s already being cleaned up. The remedial work is ongoing as we speak.”

Payne noted that the interior of the building has been cleaned, and that the only remaining project is to install a vapor barrier that will be added to the perimeter.

“Otherwise the building is good to go, to be developed,” he added.

The town has worked in conjunction with local county officials, the DEC and now the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency throughout the process to first make the site safe and then attractive to developers.

“It is a town issue and yet it isn’t because the property is controlled by the county. It still controls the tax situation,” Payne said. “There are back taxes owed on that property but in my understanding, in lieu of those back taxes, if the county finds a developer, they will forgive the taxes owed on it in lieu of finding a developer to proceed and put that property back on (county taxes).”

In other business, a Unified Court System Grant was received by the town in the amount of $9,241,which will be used to install equipment for the hearing impaired to be utilized for town court and board meetings.

Highway Superintendent Jim Mitchener briefed the board on a number of recent mechanical issues with town maintenance vehicles, as well as building upgrades at the highway department.

The board discussed an ongoing issue with gas bills for town government buildings. The town has been receiving bills of various amounts at inconsistent intervals from Nucomer Energy LLC.

Board member Tom Allison briefed those in attendance on his knowledge of the issue in the past, noting that changes in gas pipeline ownership and the organization of pipelines used by town buildings are convoluted.

“The system has been bought out two or three times. So whenever we have trouble it is quite a project to get a well tender that knows anything about it,” Allison said.

The board expressed a desire to learn more about which energy companies were supplying gas to town buildings in order to get a better understanding of the bills they are receiving.

The board also noted that the Highway and Water Department Labor-Management Contract adopted in November of 2019 has been rendered null and void due to a number of errors and a clause that was inserted which would have wrongfully jeopardized a town employee’s retirement package.