Cooperative agreement with state enables counties to take possession of long-vacant brownfields and revitalize their communities

On February 23, 2021, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced a new cooperative agreement with the State Comptroller’s Office, Niagara County, Orleans County, the cities of Lockport, Niagara Falls, and North Tonawanda, and the Niagara Orleans Regional Land Improvement Corp. (NORLIC) to promote the redevelopment of dozens of potentially contaminated properties in Niagara and Orleans counties.

The agreement is designed to remove contaminated properties from tax foreclosure lists and put these sites back into productive use while addressing any potential contamination.

For families like mine in Western New York who witnessed factories fall to industrial decline and decay, today’s announcement represents a long overdue sign of revitalization,” Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul said. “This agreement is how we turnaround Western New York and further reimagine the region as an economic powerhouse for the post-pandemic future.

NORLIC works with city and county officials in Niagara and Orleans counties to help address problems stemming from vacant, abandoned, tax delinquent, and underutilized properties by taking title to properties.

Once acquired, the properties are repurposed, redeveloped, resold, and ultimately restored to the tax rolls. The foreclosure process and resale can be complicated by the potential presence of contamination from prior uses or historical spills on these tax delinquent properties.

This state-local partnership will help reverse blight, turn delinquent properties into new businesses, and clean up brownfields to create healthier communities in Niagara and Orleans counties,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said. “Governor Andrew Cuomo is committed to providing local governments with resources to grow economies and revitalize neighborhoods, and DEC will continue using tools like this agreement to promote redevelopment across the State.

To address concerns such as liability, cost recovery, and access to potentially contaminated sites, the agreement helps remove these and other obstacles that prevent the economic development of vacant and underused properties.

This agreement presents an exciting opportunity for Niagara Falls to transform properties formerly deemed undesirable into productive and safe development sites,” said City of Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino. “Our community can benefit greatly by the program, and Niagara Falls is excited to be a part of this progressive effort to rehabilitate long-dormant properties and create new development opportunities to grow our local economy.

The agreement announced today allows entities such as cities, counties, and land banks to foreclose or take title of properties that are contaminated or potentially contaminated without becoming immediately liable for that contamination or past cleanup costs expended by the Spill Fund or DEC.

In the past, the NORLIC has enabled us to address environmental concerns in the Village of Albion,” said Lynne M. Johnson, Chairperson, Orleans County Legislature. “I am pleased the flexibility of this new agreement provides for amendments which gives us the ability to direct attention to properties in Orleans County that could pose potential risks to public health in the future.

In addition, the agreement announced today provides a mechanism for sharing future sale proceeds from properties to help recover past costs incurred by the State for the cleanup of contamination.

This agreement removes a significant impediment associated with returning brownfield properties to productive use while at the same time adding to the local tax rolls and working to ensure public health and the environment are protected by addressing any contamination,” said DEC Region 9 Acting Director Chad Staniszewski. “We look forward to continuing our work together using the tools available to create healthier and more prosperous cities and counties in our region.

If a site requires a cleanup, the agreement requires the developer and/or new property owner to enter one of DEC’s remedial programs, such as the Brownfield Cleanup Program or the Spill Response program funded by the New York Environmental Protection and Spill Compensation Fund.

Niagara County has simply not been able to foreclose on properties that were delinquent on their taxes if those sites had potential contamination because it put taxpayers on the hook for the cost of cleanup,” said Becky Wydysh, Chair of the Niagara County Legislature.

This allowed some landowners to simply stop paying their taxes and kept strategic parcels of land from being repurposed for future development. With this agreement, we can finally begin to aggressively move forward in pursuing economic development opportunities for these sites. I thank DEC for their partnership in reaching this agreement as we believe it will have significant benefit for communities across Niagara County,” she added.

There are currently 81 properties identified in the agreement, including 21 properties in the town of Wheatfield and city of Niagara Falls.

The City of Lockport appreciates the DEC’s continued commitment to partner with us and our surrounding area in improving the quality of life within our community,” said City of Lockport Mayor Michelle M. Roman. “This initiative will help break down the barriers that contaminated sites present to our city. This collaboration will allow these sites to be part of the growth and development of our area and reach our fullest potential for a healthy, vibrant community for residents, businesses, and visitors.

Sites also include vacant industrial properties in the town of Royalton, village of Middleport, and town of Niagara, as well as properties in the city of Lockport, and the towns of Cambria, Lewiston, Lockport, Newfane, and Pendleton.

Properties range in size from less than one acre to 73 acres. The agreement provides flexibility to amend the list in the future.

The Niagara-Orleans agreement is similar to agreements DEC signed last year with Onondaga County to address 138 properties and with Wayne County to address 26 properties.

Thank you to the DEC and NORLIC. This agreement will protect and help grow our local communities,” said Mayor of North Tonawanda Arthur Pappas.

In addition, the 2016 DEC agreement with Suffolk County and the Suffolk County Land Bank helped remediate 12 properties with a combined tax delinquency of 195 years, and some properties had been tax delinquent for as long as 28 years.

Brownfields photos are courtesy of the Niagara County Center For Economic Development.

Learn more about DEC’s cleanup programs.

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