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The abandoned machine shop at the former Jones and Laughlin Steel plant. Photo: Zach Hirsch
The abandoned machine shop at the former Jones and Laughlin Steel plant. Photo: Zach Hirsch

New deal may mean a new beginning for J&L site

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For decades, the former Jones and Laughlin Steel plant in southern St. Lawrence County has been a symbol of the region's manufacturing decline. J&L Steel went out of business in the late 1970s, and since then, it was unclear who would clean up the toxic waste the company left behind. Parts of the property are listed as a state Superfund site.

Yesterday, local officials, including state's top environment official, met to celebrate what they believe is going to be a new beginning.

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Reported by

Zach Hirsch
Reporter and Producer

Inside the former machine shop at the J&L site. Photo: Zach Hirsch
Inside the former machine shop at the J&L site. Photo: Zach Hirsch
Back in April, St. Lawrence County took a huge step: It got permission from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to buy a portion of the J&L site without being legally responsible for the cleanup. It's an arrangement called a "liability release."

"I don't know if you believe in miracles. I don't know if that would ever happen, but it did," says Mark Hall, supervisor for the Town of Fine. He's relieved because, instead of having to pay for the cleanup and redevelopment, local officials can get agencies like the DEC and the EPA to foot most of the bill.

Town of Fine supervisor Mark Hall tells Commissioner Martens about the hazardous J&L buildings. Photo: Zach Hirsch
Town of Fine supervisor Mark Hall tells Commissioner Martens about the hazardous J&L buildings. Photo: Zach Hirsch
At a celebration at the Ranger School in Wanakena yesterday, Joe Martens – commissioner of the state DEC – cracks a joke. People are laughing, as commissioner Martens gives his final seal of approval: "The certificate of completion. Signed yesterday, and delivered today."

Now, another long road begins. The county can finally start acting on plans to redevelop a relatively uncontaminated, 18-acre piece of the J&L site.

NY DEC Commissioner Joe Martens addresses a crowd of about 50 people at the Ranger School in Wanakena, NY on Tuesday. Photo: Zach Hirsch
NY DEC Commissioner Joe Martens addresses a crowd of about 50 people at the Ranger School in Wanakena, NY on Tuesday. Photo: Zach Hirsch
Carrie Tuttle is Director of Engineering for the Development Authority of the North Country. She looks around at the blue, dilapidated buildings. There's shattered glass, and other debris on the ground. She says the first step is to demolish all this.

"The next process won't actually be bureaucratic. Short of getting the money to actually do the demolition that we're going to need to do, we could actually take down buildings. You know, we'd need to work through the county, the county's now the property owner – but that could happen."

Tuttle says she's optimistic. She says the county could line up funding for the first stage of demolition as soon as a year from now. Other next steps could include rehabilitating a railroad to the site, and connecting it to a clean, municipal water system.

The ultimate goal is to attract a business to locate there.

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