A Freedom of Information request submitted to the NYS DEC has uncovered some unsettling information related to the City’s efforts to clean up lead contamination on hundreds of properties surrounding the old Geneva Foundry.
Potential Lawsuits on the Horizon, Cleanup Schedules Updated
A December 3rd Geneva Believer story reported on an upcoming public meeting for residents of the lead contamination zone. The December 7th meeting took place at Hydrant Hose Firehouse, with concerned residents listening and speaking to lawyers from Syracuse firm Smith & Sovik. As reported in the Finger Lakes Times, around 50 residents attended the meeting, and somewhere between “30 to 50 people signed retainer agreements to hire the law firm, with the possibility of a class action lawsuit if enough sign up who have similar stories.” Attorneys estimated that litigation could take up to three years or more.
Meanwhile, at the December 7th City Council meeting, City Council approved a resolution “REQUESTING ACCELERATED ACTION OF NEIGHBORHOOD CLEANUP SURROUNDING FORMER GENEVA FOUNDRY.” With this resolution, the City of Geneva officially requested that “the State promptly access Superfund revenues to address remediation activities on affected parcels.”
Two weeks later, on December 21st, a Finger Lakes Times article reported that the cleanup of the vacant Geneva Foundry site was expected to be completed within 9 months. The Foundry site has been tapped to be re-zoned and sold to a non-profit group for development of 14 solar-powered, environmentally conscious single-family houses and townhomes.
On December 22nd, an article by Steve Orr of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle (which was a follow-up to Orr’s November story that first brought the decades-long lead coverup to light) stated that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) would move forward with the offsite lead cleanup efforts on a significantly shorter timetable, taking about 3 years from start to finish. This time frame was quite an improvement from previous estimates (which ranged from 5 years to 10+ years), and the expediated cleanup may have been prompted by public pressure.
It would appear that the DEC and City of Geneva are working towards addressing the decades-old contamination from the Foundry in an efficient and responsible manner. However, after a look at documents obtained by Geneva Believer via a Freedom of Information Law request to the DEC, it’s apparent that City officials, for more than a year (and perhaps longer), made a concerted effort to ensure that the vacant Geneva Foundry cleanup would take priority over the remediation of the hundreds of contaminated offsite properties.
City Consultant: “No Lead from the Foundry” – DEC: “LOL”
Among the numerous pages of documents relating to the Geneva Foundry and dating back to 2005 was an intriguing email exchange between DEC officials and City of Geneva consultants from 2015.
In an email dated January 9, 2015 from longtime City of Geneva consultant David K. Meixell (formerly of O’Brien and Gere, now with Plumley Engineering) and addressed to the DEC’s James Craft and City of Geneva consultant (and current City Councilor) Gordon Eddington, Meixell states that his research could find no “strong evidence” that offsite lead contamination was related to the Geneva Foundry:
We have also reviewed the residential soil data, divided the data into upwind and downwind data sets, and performed some statistical assessments. In addition, we looked at some other studies that were performed on urban soils with regards to lead and arsenic. I will forward this material to you. We were orignially trying to develop a conceptual approach to be used in developing a sampling plan for additional sampling. However, based on this work, we don’t see any strong evidence of area-wide impacts from the foundry site, although the backyard of 234 Exchange Street appears to warrant some remedial work.
In response, Craft states that these findings are “interesting,” and asks Meixell to send him the full analysis. Meixell sends the full analysis on January 14th.
On April 10th at 12:45pm, Craft responds with an in-depth and lengthy analysis of his own, expressing strong reservations to Meixell’s methods and providing an extensive amount of offsite testing data and analysis. Twelve minutes later, Eddington replies that he and Meixell would “digest” the information and “get back to” Craft.
Later, in February 2016, during an email discussion with Matt Horn and Geneva Development Services Manager Neal Braman, Craft stated that Meixell’s estimated fee of more than $12,274 for a “Meeting in Geneva, Urban Pb literature review, Statistical eval. of previous res. data” was “excessive.” Craft also said that Meixell’s “data analysis appeared incomplete and somewhat skewed.”
It’s unclear how or why an experienced environmental engineer and consultant like Meixell could conclude that there was no offsite contamination from the Foundry except for one adjacent parcel, while the DEC would conclude, using the same test results, that the contamination from the Foundry was widespread and would require additional testing.
“An Immense Amount of Time and Effort”
*Editor’s Note – January 6th, 2017 CORRECTION*
In the following section, and during public comment at the 1/4/17 Geneva City Council meeting, I’ve stated that due to requests by a consultant on behalf of the City of Geneva, the DEC (against their earlier recommendations) agreed to separate the Foundry cleanup into three separate projects in order to ensure that the Foundry site was cleaned up before the surrounding contaminated residential properties.
I have misinterpreted the use of the word “project,” mistakenly assuming that the offsite and onsite cleanups were eventually separated by the DEC due to the City’s requests.
The DEC issued only one Proposed Remedial Action Plan (PRAP) for three operable units (OUs). Approaching the offsite and onsite cleanup as one “project” with only one PRAP was the DEC’s original recommendation to the City. OU 1 is the former site of the actual Foundry building, and OU 2 is the parcel targeted for development, and OU 3 is the offsite residential properties.
This is the link to the Former Geneva Foundry Site PRAP:
After reviewing the DEC emails in this context, it is unclear whether the city’s consultant was requesting that the DEC separate the onsite and offsite remediation efforts, or that the DEC separate the Foundry site into two remediation efforts.
Still, in both cases, the result is that the taxpayer-funded cleanup of the parcel targeted for development will be remediated years before the residential properties.
The fact remains that the City asked the DEC to separate the projects so that the City could “use their own money to finish the cleanup of the Foundry site and to get the site ready for commercial use development” before the residential cleanup was completed.
I regret the error, and will strive in the future to avoid mistakes and to maintain Geneva Believer as a fact-based source of alternative news and viewpoints. Below is the unedited text of the original article.
Many residents in the contamination zone have expressed frustration that the cleanup of the vacant Foundry site was apparently being given priority over cleanup of hundreds of contaminated residential properties. Documents obtained from the DEC show that Geneva City consultant Gordon Eddington, against the preferences of the DEC, insisted upon dividing the cleanup project into multiple segments, rather than a single project. By separating the Foundry cleanup effort from the cleanup of hundreds of individual properties, it would ensure that the Foundry would be completed in a much shorter time span.
In an email from July 22, 2015, Eddington told the DEC’s Craft that City Manager Matt Horn wanted Eddington to “once again ask” (implying that he had asked previously) if the onsite and offsite cleanup projects could be kept separate:
Matt also wanted me to once again ask if the project could be divided into two (2) operable units. They are prepared to use their own money to finish the cleanup of the Foundry site and to get the site ready for commercial use development.
Craft responded on July 23rd, stating that keeping the cleanup effort as one project would “save an immense amount of time and effort,” and even offered a possible way to do both onsite and offsite cleanups at the same time:
Regarding two (2) operable units, it is possible but at this point, a combined PRAP/ROD would save an immense amount of time and effort. We are very close and with one more sampling round, I can generate a PRAP for both on and offsite. Perhaps it would be possible to remove the slab and foundation with City crews while the offsite work was completed. That would be the majority of the onsite prep work and allow access to areas of concern once the ROD and remedial design was complete.
(*PRAP=Proposed Remedial Action Plan *ROD=Record of Decision)
After failing to respond to four emails from Craft over the next few months, Eddington replies on September 21st and asks again to split up the cleanup project:
As was mentioned before the City is still interested in breaking the project into two (2) operable units. Dave (Meixell) can discuss this more with you.
And again, Craft tells Eddington:
Segmentation of the project into separate OUs (with separate PRAPs/RODs) would not be a productive use of time at this point as noted previously.
However, it appears that the City of Geneva’s repeated requests that the vacant Foundry cleanup and the residential cleanup be separated into two projects were eventually agreed to by the DEC. The DEC information page for the Foundry remediation states that there are three “operable units” in the cleanup project:
- OU1 – On-site south of Jackson Street
- OU2 – On-site north of Jackson Street
- OU3 – Off-site Areas
The fact that the vacant Geneva Foundry lot will be cleaned up before the hundreds of contaminated residential lots is not a coincidence. It is not an unfortunate requirement due to environmental laws or complex Brownfield funding guidelines. It is the result of the City of Geneva insisting that the DEC divide the cleanup efforts into three separate projects, apparently because the city wanted to “use their own money to finish the cleanup of the Foundry site and to get the site ready for commercial use development.”
Not Your Average “Developers”
It’s important to note that while the City appears to have aggressively pushed to clean up the Foundry site separately (and thereby more quickly) than the rest of the contaminated area, the organization seeking to build on the Foundry site is a remarkably forward-thinking and progressive group, and such a development would be a great addition to the Geneva community.
“Blueprint Geneva” aims to build a 14 separate “480-sq ft. to 960-sq.ft. homes are grid-connected but are completely self-sufficient for electricity, heat and water. They feature modern conveniences such as in-floor radiant heat, designer kitchens, vaulted ceilings, central AC, and maintenance-free exteriors.” In addition, the development will also have “shared resources including a community lounge, kitchen, dining room, theatre, storage units, workshop, and guest rooms.”
In a presentation to City Council in September, Blueprint Geneva’s Ryan Wallace explained that homeowners in the community could expect “monthly mortgages, plus taxes and insurance, in the $750-a-month range” on a 15-year loan, with no utility bills, providing affordable homeownership for residents of many incomes and backgrounds. Wallace also estimated that the project would add $1,000,000 to the city’s tax base.
Without a doubt, the Blueprint Geneva project could not only provide tax revenue and affordable housing in the city, it would also help Geneva stake a claim as a city willing to employ a 21st century, sustainable development and community-building model.
While I would have loved to write an article solely about this ambitious, exciting project, unfortunately the timeline of the Foundry cleanup and the unsavory actions of the city to remediate the Foundry lot before the hundreds of homeowners in Wards 5 and 6 has cast a shadow on the Blueprint Geneva effort. It is my sincere wish that the Foundry cleanup is done in an ethical and caring way, first helping the residents whose lives have been upended by the lead and arsenic contamination, and then cleaning up the Foundry site to provide a location for a unique and thoughtful project that will undoubtedly reap benefits for generations to come.
View the Test Results from 1999, 2005 and 2007
Readers may click the links below to view results of offsite testing in the neighborhoods surrounding the Geneva Foundry.
The first link will direct you to a large .jpg image file that shows test results on a map, coded as follows:
· Blue dots / red numbers = 1999 lab data
· Maroon triangles / blue numbers = 2005 lab data
· Maroon triangles / green numbers = 2007 lab data
· Maroon triangles / pink numbers = 2007 onsite lab data (note that the site footprint
was either building or pavement and the highest lead value onsite was 590 ppm)
· Red dots / white numbers = 2007 offsite XRF data (collected along street ROWs; all
Pb data was below 500 ppm [only 3 of 40 exceeded 400 ppm] and the mean value = 200
ppm and the median = 168 ppm).
The second link will direct you to an .xls file with the complete data from 2005 testing.
Tell the DEC: Families First, Vacant Lot Second
The DEC is taking comments from the public until January 28th. If you feel that the City should be cleaning up the offsite properties first before cleaning up the Foundry site, you can let them know.
Comments on the city’s brownfield application, proposed Remedial Action Plan and Revised Supplemental Remedial Investigation/Alternatives Analysis Report must be submitted no later than Jan. 28. A copy of the application, proposed remedial action plan, revised supplemental remedial investigation and alternatives analysis report and other relevant documents are available to view in the Geneva Public Library at 244 Main St.
Information regarding the site and how to submit comments can be found at www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/60058.html.
Comments can be sent to Frank Sowers, project manager, NYSDEC-Region 8, 6274 East Avon-Lima Road, Avon, 14414. Sowers also will take comments at (585) 226-5357 or firstname.lastname@example.org.