DEC requires cleanup of Master Cleaners brownfield, owner hopes to sell 

GUILDERLAND — Charles Bohl, who owns a 13-acre property at the corner of Route 20 and Foundry Road, part of which the state has deemed a threat to public health, told The Enterprise this week that he hopes a developer will purchase the property and take responsibility for its cleanup.

Meanwhile, since Bohl bought the property long after a dry-cleaning business there closed, he is not responsible for any contamination that may have spread beyond the property, said Mike Ryan, the director of environmental remediation with the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation. The state would be responsible, Ryan said, for any cleanup beyond the borders of Bohl’s property. 

“We’ll chase the contamination as far as it extends,” Ryan told The Enterprise. 

A senior-housing facility that had been planned for the corner backed out of the project almost two years ago because Bohl had not wanted to pay for the cleanup.

The DEC announced on July 24 that Master Cleaners, the nearly half-acre site of a former dry cleaner at 2312 Western Ave., poses “a significant threat to public health or the environment” and that remedial action is required to clean the soil and groundwater. 

The agency’s decision is the next step in a process that began in 2016 when Bohl applied for the site to be named a brownfield cleanup site. The DEC approved the site for inclusion in the brownfield program as of December 2016, Ryan said. 

Bohl told The Enterprise this week that a developer has expressed interest in the property. He declined to name the developer or to describe the project.

“They want to see what the DEC finds and how much it’s going to cost,” he said.

The DEC does not know what methods Bohl will propose for remediating the site, and so is unable at this point to estimate his possible costs, Ryan said.

Bohl is an uncle of Laurel Bohl, a candidate for Guilderland Town Board. Laurel Bohl, who lives nearby, has no ownership of or interest in the 13-acre property with the brownfield.

Charles Bohl bought the Master Cleaners property in 2011 for $200,000, according to public documents. This was after the dry cleaners had closed.

Because Bohl did not own the property when it operated as a dry cleaners, he is considered a “volunteer” in this cleanup, rather than a “participant,” according to the DEC; he did not cause the problem, so he is not responsible for cleanup of contamination that goes beyond the borders of his property.

The original Master Cleaners owner, if he were alive and still owned the property, would be deemed a “participant” and would be responsible for cleanup both on- and off-site, said Ryan. 

Now, if contamination is found to have spread from Master Cleaners, the off-site cleanup will be the responsibility of the state, Ryan said. If contamination is found at nearby homes, the state and not those homeowners would be responsible for any cleanup, he said. 

Bohl told The Enterprise he had already spent about $1 million on cleaning up the former Sunoco gas station at 2304 Western Ave. that is part of the 13 acres. The site had more recently been used as a towing operation, Bohl said. 

Jomo Miller, a spokesman for the DEC, wrote in an email that the gas station property at 2304 Western Ave. had nine reported spills and that Charles and Ed Bohl have been involved in the gas-station property since at least 1990, during which time remediation has included removal of nearly eight tons of contaminated soil.

The late Ed Bohl was Charles Bohl’s brother.

All the samples save one, Miller wrote, met DEC targets for residential use; the one sample, with Xylene — a synthetic chemical that can cause nervous-system problems — met industrial-use targets.

 

Contaminants

The DEC defines a “brownfield” as any real property where a contaminant is present at levels exceeding the soil cleanup objective or other health-based or environmental standards, criteria, or guidance adopted by DEC.

The most concerning contaminant at the Master Cleaners site, the DEC says, is tetrachloroethene, or PCE, found in groundwater and soils at the site as a result of dry-cleaning operations. PCE is a volatile organic compound, or VOC, used as a solvent in many industries. 

Timothy McIntyre, who heads Guilderland’s Department of Water and Wastewater, said that nearby homes on Foundry Road are on the town’s public-water system and so would not be affected by any contaminants at the Master Cleaners site, which the DEC confirmed.

The DEC is in the process of investigating the extent of contamination off-site, Ryan said; two property owners along Foundry Road have agreed to grant DEC access, and the agency is collecting samples from those properties this month.

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry of the United States Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, exposure to PEC may harm the nervous system, liver, kidneys, and reproductive system, and may be harmful to unborn children; people exposed to tetrachloroethylene may also be at a higher risk of getting certain types of cancer.

PCE levels up to 21,000 parts per million were detected in shallow soils within a sump in the Master Cleaners building; the restricted residential cleanup objective is 19 parts per million, so the PCE level there was 1,105 times over the DEC’s target. 

In deeper soils, the level of PCE-related breakdown products was several times over the target. 

Chemicals found in the soil include:

— Trichloroethene, or TCE, at more than five times the target; 

— Cis-1,2-dichloroethene at almost three times the target; 

— Trans-1,2-dichloroethene at not quite twice the target; 

— Lead over the target; 

— Mercury over the target; and

— Vinyl chloride at the target. 

In groundwater, PCE and associated breakdown products were also found in very high levels, with concentrations up to 150,000 parts per billion, where 5 parts per billion is the DEC’s target. 

Sites of former dry cleaners are notorious for chemical contamination. This site, according to the DEC, was used as a dry cleaner for about four decades, starting in about 1956.

Robert Cozzy of the DEC, which runs the Brownfield Cleanup Program, told The Enterprise earlier that, prior to the introduction of federal regulations in about 1980, many small dry-cleaning businesses may not have known about the health risks caused by dry-cleaning chemicals and often threw old filters, saturated with chemicals, into Dumpsters or onto the ground behind the businesses, resulting in many years of leakage into the ground.

New dry-cleaning practices and technologies over the past couple of decades have resulted in substantially reduced occupational exposure, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency. 

The surface-water body closest to the old Master Cleaners is the Hunger Kill, a creek located about 600 feet southwest of the site, according to the DEC. The Hunger Kill flows into the Normanskill below the Watervliet Reservoir. The Normanskill flows into the Hudson River, which supplies water for communities downstate.

 

Developer pulls out 

The 13-acre property from 2298 to 2314 Western Ave. is for sale through Vanguard-Fine LLC, at $1.5 million. The real-estate listing on Vanguard-Fine’s website says that it has 1,000 feet of road frontage on Western Avenue and “would make a great redevelopment for Senior or multi Housing community.” 

Karen Van Wagenen, Guilderland’s assessor, said the 13 acres includes at least five parcels and possibly more; the five parcels on Western Avenue total 12.19 acres with a combined assessed value of $1,756,500.

The site is zoned General Business, the town’s most intensive commercial use. Projects that could be built there, with a special-use permit, include a car lot, a service station, a convenience store with a gas station, a medical clinic, a theater, or a shopping center.

Ronald DeVito of The Genitor Organization in Melville, New York, had gone a long way in the process of receiving approval from the town to build an assisted-living facility on the property when he pulled out in the fall of 2017 over concerns about how much the cleanup would cost and who would be responsible for it. 

DeVito told The Enterprise earlier that Bohl had not made the total cost of cleaning up the soil and groundwater clear enough. The process of cleaning the groundwater in particular could take a prohibitively long time, DeVito said.

DeVito had planned to build an enhanced assisted-living facility, providing continuity of care up to but not including around-the clock skilled nursing care. The facility was to have independent-living residences, an enriched housing program, enhanced assisted-living residences, and special-needs assisted-living residences, according to the application filed at Guilderland’s town hall. 

DeVito had been willing to dedicate some land from the 13-acre property to the town, to use to widen Foundry Road. He was also willing to pay the costs of that roadwork and for widening Route 20 to put in a turn lane, if necessary, as well as paying for any traffic lights deemed necessary at the intersection. 

DeVito said this week that he was still interested in the site and that one of the things that he likes about it is its location along Route 20. When his company looks for a site, he said, it wants “a lot of visibility and exposure, which makes it easier for anyone to become aware of the facility.” 

DeVito said this week that, earlier, Charles Bohl had not wanted to pay for the cleanup. “He wanted to increase the price for the land in the amount that he would have to pay to clean everything up,” he said. 

Bohl may have received an expression of interest from a developer who is able to pay more than he can, DeVito said. 

“It might be,” said DeVito, “that this is more valuable for people who are doing retail or things like that. But with senior housing, I have to be very careful about how much I spend.” 

 

Next steps 

Bohl submitted a plan for how to investigate the contamination at the site, which was reviewed and approved by the DEC and the state’s Department of Health, Ryan said. Bohl then completed the study within the past few months and compiled the findings into a remedial investigation report, he explained.   

That report is now under review by the DEC. “We now understand soil quality, groundwater quality, on site,” Ryan said. 

Once the DEC approves the remedial investigation report, Ryan continued, the next step will be for Bohl to submit a work plan on how to address the contamination, which will be subject to public comment. 

Once the DEC selects a cleanup plan, design and construction can follow, DEC spokesman Miller wrote in an email, adding that site cleanup and redevelopment of brownfield sites are often done concurrently.

The cleanup would make it possible to build either a residential development on the site such as apartments, condominiums, or a senior-housing facility, or to build a commercial venue, according to Ryan. He said that the cleanup would not be done to the more stringent standards required for agricultural use.

Meanwhile, Ryan said, the DEC will continue to investigate the contamination off-site and evaluate how best to remediate it. “We’ll be sampling private properties,” he said. This includes nearby land owned by Bohl as well as the properties on Foundry Road.

Asked what will happen if contamination is also found in the Hunger Kill or the Normanskill, Ryan said, “The science will guide us; we’ll see how far that goes. We don’t know if we have surface-water contamination. That will be part of the upcoming work that we do to understand if the contamination has extended so far as to the Hunger Kill.”

If contamination has extended to the Hunger Kill, Ryan said, the state would be responsible for that as well. 

A property owner can apply for tax credits through the Brownfield Cleanup Program once a site has been remediated, Miller said, to help offset the costs of both cleanup and redevelopment. Miller also said the DEC issues a Certificate of Completion that lets the applicant receive a limitation of liability to the state.

 

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