Schumer seeks bigger Superfund to clean up Diaz, contaminated sites

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 14 August 2014 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer met with local officials and the media today at the former Diaz Chemical site on Jackson Street in Holley. The EPA is planning a $14.5 million project to finish the clean up of the site, but the money isn’t available.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to say the village is seeking additional power from the New York Power Authority, and not National Grid.

HOLLEY – A $14.5 million project that would knock down the remaining buildings at the former Diaz Chemical site and also remove the soil of contaminants has been stalled.

The federal Superfund program doesn’t have the money to move the project forward. So the Holley community must continue to bear the burden of having the ruins of Diaz Chemical along a residential neighborhood.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer is trying to direct money to the Superfund through a “Polluter’s Tax.” That tax expired, depriving the Environmental Protection Agency of money to get contaminated sites cleaned up.

Sen. Charles Schumer speaks in front of the former Diaz Chemical today. He is joined by from left: Holley Mayor John Kenney, Village Trustee Kevin Lynch, Village Trustee Skip Carpenter, and county legislators John DeFillipps and Ken DeRoller.

“The taxpayers can’t afford this in a small village,” Schumer said today in Holley while standing in front of the office building at the former Diaz. “It would bankrupt the village. That’s why the federal government has to step in.”

Diaz declared bankruptcy in 2003. The EPA has been the caretaker of the property since then and spent $12 million taking down some of the buildings and removing barrels, pipes and some contaminants.

But some buildings remain, as well as contaminated soil.

“A lot of work has been done but we haven’t crossed home plate,” Schumer said. “To have this site just sitting here adds salt to the wound.”

The remains of the plant are mostly fenced off from the public.

Diaz was the village’s largest private employer with about 60 workers before the company shut down. The company was a major taxpayer and user of water and sewer services.

The company had an accidental release in January 2002, and some chemicals landed on residential homes and yards. Eight homeowners moved out and didn’t come back.

The EPA took possession of those houses and had them cleaned, but they’ve sat empty and off the market for a decade. Holley Mayor John Kenney has pressed the EPA to put the houses up for sale.

The contaminated Diaz site has hurt the community of 1,800 residents, Kenney said.

“When you’re 1 square mile it doesn’t take much to create a blight,” he said.

Holley Mayor John Kenney wants to see the Diaz site cleaned up. He also wants eight houses feared contaminated by the former chemical plant to be put on the market.

Schumer said he would contact the EPA, trying to get the houses for sale soon. That would boost the village’s tax base and could bring more residents into the community.

Kenney said the town of Murray, Holley Central School and Orleans County also have taken tax hits because of the Diaz bankruptcy.

Reinstating the polluter’s tax would direct more than $1 billion annually into the Superfund and return contaminated sites to contributing properties, Schumer said.

“There may be no better example of a stalled cleanup than right here at Diaz in Holley,” he said.

The Diaz site could again be an asset for the community. The property is next to Holley Business Park and a railroad. It has access to water, sewer and the village’s low-cost municipal electric.

Kenney said he wants to see another company operating at the site someday soon.
But Schumer said that can only happen if the EPA has the funds to get the buildings down and the soil cleaned up.

“No one will come here because this site is contaminated,” he said.

The EPA’s first cleanup took out the more pressing concerns for the community – processing buildings and barrels of chemicals. But Schumer said the site is still dragging down Holley.

“This is not a health emergency but it’s an economic crisis,” he said.

Signs warn people to stay away from the former chemical plant, which was operated for about three decades in the village of Holley.

Part of the EPA’s proposed cleanup plan involves heating the soil to break down contaminants. The EPA could need 3 megawatts or more of electricity for the work, Kenney said.

Holley has the capacity on its system for the added power, but the New York Power Authority hasn’t approved the additional power allotment for the project. Schumer said he would get involved, insisting on the power allocation for the project, which Kenney said would stretch over 443 days.

He would like NYPA to make that power available after the cleanup is done so Holley could woo more companies. Schumer sees Holley as a draw given the low-cost power and close proximity to Rochester.

“Residents of Holley have waited far too long for this site to become viable again, and I will do everything in my power to get the funding the program needs so clean-up projects like the one at Diaz Chemical can get underway,” Schumer said.

Diaz operated out of a site that for 60 years was used by Duffy Motts.