In Ithaca, Chain Works Site Remediation Amendment Is Clearing Way For Development

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VESTAL, NY (WSKG) — The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is accepting comments on a revised remedy plan for the Chain Works development on South Hill, which could open the door for the mixed-use development to move forward.

The 95-acre Chain Works facility on South Hill may be nearing the end of its environmental remediation, clearing the way for development to begin on the site. (Vaughn Golden/WSKG)

The proposed amendment to the DEC’s Record on Decision, or ROD, for the class two superfund site applies more stringent measures for remediation of the 95-acre area, now owned by Emerson Power Transmission. Under the previous ROD, Emerson was required to restore the project to industrial standards, but the amendment would ensure that portions of the site contain lower concentrations of contaminants necessary for commercial and restricted residential uses.

“Our cleanup objectives are a little more conservative and they allow for uses like restricted residential, building apartment buildings, whereas the previous remedy didn’t contemplate that,” Gary Priscott, a geologist with the DEC, told WSKG following a public comment session Wednesday.

In 2016, developer Dave Lubin, who is also leading construction of Harold’s Square on the Ithaca Commons, announced plans to renovate the South Hill site into a mixed-use development, including multi-dwelling housing units, commercial space and some light industrial uses. Lubin said the remediation work done so far on the Emerson site has been aimed at meeting the higher standards, and the amendment to the DEC’s ROD is reflecting that work.

Contamination was first discovered on the Chain Works site in the early 1980’s. Over the next decade, investigators continued to find more dangerous contaminants, ultimately leading the property to be designated as a class two superfund site. Class one sites are the most serious.

The Chain Works site was originally used to manufacture roller chain and bearings in the early 1900’s, later transitioning to ownership by Borg Warner and then Emerson Power Transmission. Over the years, contaminants were regularly used at the plant, especially in metal finishing processes where parts would be treated with barium and cyanide. Waste from some of those processes would then be pumped through an internal sanitary sewer and into a fire/water reservoir. All of those components leaked or seeped out the contaminants into the ground.

Remediation measures to date have involved significant surveying of the site. It has included 240 soil vapor screening points, 263 metal screening points, 142 soil borings and 105 wells. Around 98 tons of hazardous material has been removed. A drainage ditch toward the north end of the property was largely removed of contaminants, replaced with clean fill and routed to a weir box where any contaminants draining from the site could be monitored.

The are around the former water/fire reservoir, which has some of the largest concentrations of contaminants will continue to be a dual phase extraction system where groundwater is pumped through an on-site cleaning process before being released.