EPA completes clean up of former Mineola plant

James Galloway

The Environmental Protection Agency said it has completed remediation of the former Jackson Steel Plant in Mineola after a 15-year cleanup of contamination sprouting from the company’s improper disposal of hazardous degreasers.

At a May 22 meeting set up by Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) with EPA representatives and state, county and village officials, the EPA said it had restored toxic chemicals and vapors at the plant at 435 First St. and nearby properties to levels the agency deems safe.

The EPA took control of the Jackson Steel plant, which opened as early as 1970 and closed in 1991, about a decade ago after designating it a Superfund Site in need of emergency remediation, according to EPA documents. The EPA must now determine a plan to monitor toxicity levels and ensure they remain at safe levels.

Village of Mineola Clerk Joseph Scalero, who attended the meeting May 22 meeting, said it marked the first time all stakeholders in the plant met together at the same time.

“After a very productive meeting, it’s clear that all the interested parties now have the information they need to reach an agreement on how best to redevelop the former Jackson Steel plant in a way that benefits the entire community,” Rice said in a statement. “I thank the EPA for their efforts to ensure that this site will not threaten public health, and I’ll continue to work with state, county and village officials to get this long-dormant property back on the tax rolls.”

In addition to Rice and representatives from the EPA, the meeting was attended by state Senator Jack Martins, Nassau County Chief Real Estate Negotiator and Special Counsel Kevin Walsh, Acting Nassau County Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter, Village of Mineola Mayor Scott Strauss, Village of Mineola Deputy Mayor Paul Pereira, and Scalero.

Both Mineola and Nassau County have unpaid property tax liens on the site of about $1.4 million and $3 million, respectively, that accumulated during the period between the closing of the factory and the EPA taking control, Scalero said.

Once the EPA releases a site management plan, which would outline requirements by the state and future occupants to monitor toxicity levels, the village and county would need to determine how to recoup the liens, Scalero said.

In addition to recouping the full value of the unpaid taxes, the village hopes to get the property back on the tax rolls, Scalero said.

“The Jackson Steel Superfund site has been off the tax rolls for far too long now,” Strauss said. “I thank Congresswoman Rice for taking the lead and putting together a very productive meeting with all interested parties, and I’m encouraged to see all levels of government commit to working together to ensure a safe future for a site that will greatly benefit our community.”

An idea floated by the Nassau County Police Department to use the property as a police facility was withdrawn following the meeting, Scalero said.

The Jackson Steel plant, located in a mixed-use area with commercial properties to the south and west and houses to the north and east, used degreasers containing toxic chemicals until 1985, storing the waste in plastic drums.

In 1981, an inspection by the Nassau County Department of Health found signs of improper spill control and waste storage, EPA documents show.

The multi-million dollar cleanup of the defunct plant, which used to produce “roll form metal shapes,” began about 15 years ago when the EPA identified elevated levels of tetrachloroethene, a chemical often used by dry cleaners, in the air of a nearby daycare center, according to EPA documents.

Documents show that the EPA spent about $37,000 between 2001 and 2004 on air sampling at the plant and properties nearby and the installation of “mitigation systems” at the nearby daycare and billiards club.

Between 2002 and 2004, the EPA spent another $2.3 million to study the nature and extent of the contamination and remedial solutions, and in 2004 and 2005, the EPA spent $2.9 million on a groundwater investigation related to a lower aquifer.

According to EPA documents, more than 300,000 people living within four miles of the facility received their drinking water from wells relying on aquifers that chemicals leaks from the site could contaminate. The nearest well was about one-third of a mile away, documents say.

In 2005, the EPA provided $1 million to begin remedial fieldwork at the property and those nearby.

“Through the EPA’s cleanup and remediation, the community has taken a positive step in reversing the environmental devastation caused through decades of industrial abuse, protecting our community’s health, and ensuring that our drinking water is preserved,” Martins said.

Martins, who served as mayor of Mineola from 2003 to 2011, said the EPA remediation paved the way for the site to be redeveloped.

According to the EPA officials present, the EPA would normally cedes responsibility to the state for monitoring toxicity levels at the property once the agency releases the site management plan.

However, the owner of the property — the person or company typically responsible for outstanding property taxes and remediation costs — is a major question mark in the case of the Jackson Steel plant.

According to Scalero, a forensic investigation by the EPA found no person or entity with a claim to the property, essentially leaving it ownerless, because the Jackson Steel Corporation dissolved years ago and its principals are unknown.

“It’s a very unusual situation because there’s almost always somebody that takes a claim to it,” Scalero said.

Any future owner would need to settle the liens owed to the village and county, Scalero said.

“The ideal workout would be the county relinquishes all claims on it and the property goes back on the tax rolls,” Scalero said. “We don’t actually want to take ownership of the property we just want to see it put back to use.”

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James Galloway

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