Ogdensburg to clean up Augsbury site

A groomed lot belonging to the Ogdensburg Kiwanis Club along the St. Lawrence River at the end of Morris Street, pictured Friday, is set to be taken by the city on tax foreclosure. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

OGDENSBURG — The site of the former Augsbury Petroleum Tank Farm takes up a good portion of Ogdensburg’s waterfront on the St. Lawrence River.

Vacant for decades and now separated into three parcels, the near 21-acre property has exchanged hands with the hope that one day the contamination caused by now-removed underground tanks would be cleaned up so waterfront development could take place.

The center parcel, now owned by the Ogdensburg Kiwanis Club, will soon be taken by the city on tax foreclosure. All that is left to do is to file the deed.

“The city is officially in a position to foreclose on that property, we have not yet filed the deed, but we are in a position to,” said Andrea Smith, director of the city Department of Planning and Development.

Kiwanis Club Treasurer Larry Mitchell said the club took possession of the property from Bernier & Carr in 1995, and hoped to build baseball, softball and soccer fields along the river on top of the contaminated soil. Those fields never came to fruition due to constraints after the club took ownership.

For years, Kiwanis worked on getting the property cleaned up, applying for grants and working with other entities with no success, although the club did test for contamination with Barton & Loguidice, according to Mr. Mitchell.

The club then decided to meet with the city and look for an alternative. That’s when it was determined that the city would gain ownership through tax foreclosure.

“We want it cleaned up, we want it in the city’s hands. We don’t care if they sell it, we don’t care if they develop it themselves. We just want to see it become productive land,” Mr. Mitchell said. “Kiwanis did everything we could to deal with the property with our limited funds to try and clean it up. That’s why it was determined to give it over to the city.”

The deed for the property has not been filed as the city works with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to “determine the appropriate action to take so the city has the greatest liability protection and is not held responsible for pre-existing contamination,” Ms. Smith said.

The city plans to work with the DEC’s Spill Response Program to remove the petroleum-impacted soils on the property.

The first step in the removal process, Ms. Smith said, is to establish an agreement with the state Comptroller’s Office, “accepting their terms and understanding what the city’s responsibilities would be.”

Once that is in place, Ms. Smith said the city would file the deed and partner with DEC to conduct cleanup activities at the site.

“The DEC would essentially be the contractor and they sub it out. They do it on behalf of the property owner, in this case it would be the city,” Ms. Smith said.

When the city takes ownership of the center parcel, it will also look to create future partnerships with the adjacent landowners. The parcel to the west is owned by MCYC LLC. The parcel to the east is owned by Sybron N.Y. Corp. That property is now being held by the estate of the late Dr. Seymour Bronstein.

While Ms. Smith said that the city has an idea about the level of contamination on the Kiwanis Club parcel, it’s the other two parcels that remain an uncertainty.

“We believe the extent of the petroleum contamination is pretty well defined,” Ms. Smith said. “The bigger question is really about the contamination and the extent of the contamination on the adjacent properties and whether or not contamination is coming from an adjacent property onto the Kiwanis property.”

Ms. Smith added that the city has been working toward remediation with the three property owners over the last several years.

“Obviously remediation is the end goal. We have worked with all property owners at some point in time and we hope to continue to work with all property owners, but part of that is the acknowledgement that there is contamination and that contamination is an impediment to redevelopment,” she said. “That’s what we all have to get on the same page for and I don’t know if everyone is on that same page yet.”

The end goal, according to Ms. Smith, is to get that portion of the city’s waterfront developed.

“The city is prepared to take any measures necessary to ensure that property is cleaned up in a timely manner so that it can be part of Ogdensburg’s future and the redevelopment of our waterfront,” she said.

The former Augsbury Petroleum Tank Farm is part of the city’s Brownfield Opportunity Area. The BOA program is operated by the New York Department of State and provides state planning funds to community-based organizations and municipalities to develop plans for areas with multiple vacant properties or Brownfields.

The former tank farm joins a host of other properties, including other waterfront parcels such as the former Diamond National and Shade Roller properties, in the city’s redevelopment efforts.

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