On October 13, 2020, a Consent Order was signed. under which the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Tecumseh Redevelopment, Inc.—and its parent corporation ArcelorMittal USA—took responsibility for a comprehensive cleanup estimated to cost at least $35 million at the former site of Bethlehem Steel in Lackawanna, New York.
The Consent Order requires the completion of the cleanup of the former industrial site under the State Superfund and Corrective Action programs. In addition to addressing contamination at the site, the cleanup will provide public access to the waterfront after remediation, among other environmental and recreational benefits.
“This order marks a significant milestone in the revitalization of Western New York where we are turning blights of the past into economic engines of the future,” New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said. “The order requires the owners of the former Bethlehem Steel site to undertake a full and complete cleanup of this industrial site and to provide the community with access—for the first time in decades—to the nearby waterfront. This vacant site will once again be restored to productive use in this community, benefiting the community and the environment.”
Bethlehem Steel was once a major engine of economic productivity in Western New York, growing to encompass more than 1,600 acres for iron and steel production since the beginning of the 20th Century. Environmental contamination varies across the property with sections in DEC’s State Superfund Program, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act Corrective Action Program, and the Brownfield Cleanup Program.
“I was born in Lackawanna, in the shadow of the Bethlehem Steel Plant, where my father and his family worked to pursue the American dream,” said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul.
“The industrial manufacturer made the steel that built American cities, and when they closed down in the 1980s, it was a devastating blow to the economy and jobs in the area. Like many upstate cities, with state support Lackawanna and Western New York have seen a transformation and built back better. This comprehensive cleanup of the former Bethlehem Steel site is part of our efforts to reimagine the site for the future, with public access to the waterfront, attracting new businesses and opportunities, and strengthening the economy,” she continued.
Contamination at the site includes elevated levels of metals, including arsenic and other metals associated with manufacturing processes typical of the steel-making industry. In addition, due to the widespread use of rail transportation, oils, greases, and burning of fossil fuels impacted site soils with semi-volatile organic carbon compounds, specifically polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said, “It is critically important that New York State hold responsible parties accountable for contamination at legacy sites like Bethlehem Steel to ensure these former industrial sites are cleaned up and redeveloped and once again contributing to the local economy and benefiting the community. This Consent Order requires Tecumseh and ArcelorMittal to address pollution from Bethlehem Steel’s industrial legacy and transform the region’s largest and most identifiable vacant industrial site with input from local residents.”
DEC’s Consent Order legally requires Tecumseh and ArcelorMittal, the companies that acquired the environmental liabilities of Bethlehem Steel after its bankruptcy, to:
- Complete a comprehensive remediation program that includes cleanup and monitoring of 489 acres of the former Bethlehem Steel site nearest to the Lake Erie shoreline;
- Provide closure and post-closure care for the site, including financial assurances;
- Reimburse New York State for costs incurred for oversight of the cleanup;
- Support robust public participation and engagement in developing and implementing site cleanup plans;
- Provide public access following cleanup to portions of the Lackawanna waterfront for the first time in more than 100 years; and
- Participate in a public/private partnership that will evaluate locations and designs for improving ecological habitat to restore and naturalize areas of two miles of Lackawanna’s shoreline.
Next steps associated with the site include DEC’s development of site-wide Proposed Remedial Action Plans that will propose cleanup actions protective of human health and the environment. The Proposed Remedial Action Plans also evaluate sustainable restoration activities to help achieve the goal of restoring the natural resources and resiliency features of New York’s Lake Erie shoreline. Increasing waterfront access to Lake Erie is a key component of a sustainable economic development strategy for the site. The draft plans will be released in coming months for public comment, including a public meeting.
Tecumseh filed an Article 78 petition against DEC in October 2019. DEC was represented by the New York State Attorney General’s Office in the lawsuit. This Order resolves the lawsuit.
Photo via office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo.