October 24, 2021

Report: 2 Superfund sites at risk for flooding

Rosen Brothers scrap yard

Travis Dunn/staff reporter

This location at 136 Pendleton St. in Cortland is the former Rosen Brothers scrap yard, which is a federal Superfund site.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office has released a report that identifies more than 900 Superfund sites across the country that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is not taking adequate steps to protect from risks associated with climate change.

Two Superfund sites in the greater Cortland area are on that list — the Rosen Brothers scrap yard on Pendleton Street and Solvent Savers in Lincklaen. Both are identified as being “high flood risk” or having a “1% or higher annual chance of flooding,” according to the GAO.

“I think it’s common sense to say that the EPA should be reviewing all of their Superfund sites,” said Elizabeth Moran, environmental policy director for New York Public Interest Research Group. Moran said climate change should be an important factor in long-term oversight of these locations because of the projected increase in precipitation and consequent flood risk.

For more information

  • More information on the GAO report can be found online at: www.gao.gov/ products/GAO-20-73
  • An interactive map of the identified Superfund sites can be viewed here: www.gao.gov/multimedia/GAO-20-73/ interactive/

“How that could affect Superfund sites would be very important to look into,” she said.
The EPA, however, insists it is taking adequate precautions to protect Superfund sites.

“The EPA strongly believes the Superfund program’s existing processes and resources adequately ensure that risks and any effects of severe weather events, that may increase in intensity, duration, or frequency, are woven into risk response decisions at nonfederal NPL (Superfund) sites,” said EPA Assistant Administrator Peter Wright in a statement.

The 20-acre Rosen Brothers scrap yard was the eastern half of a 40-acre site initially owned by Wickwire Brothers Inc. from 1866 to 1970; the western half of the property was used as a nail mill, netting mill, glass cloth weave mill and several storage buildings; the eastern half was a scrap yard.

The property, owned by Keystone Consolidated Industries Inc. from 1968 to 1971, was purchased by the Rosen Brothers in the early 1970s. It continued to be used as a scrap yard from 1972 to 1985, but it also became a dumping ground for toxic chemicals.

“Municipal waste, industrial waste and construction waste were allegedly intermittently disposed of in or on the former cooling pond. Drums were crushed on-site, the contents spilling onto the ground surface. Rosen Brothers was cited for various violations, including illegally dumping into adjoining creeks, improperly disposing of waste materials, and operating a refuse disposal area without a permit. Operations on the site ceased in 1985, and the site was abandoned,” according to the EPA Superfund web site.

The city acquired the site in 1988 and the state declared it a brownfield in the late 1990s; the EPA declared it a Superfund National Priorities List site in 1989.

Following years of waste removal and site remediation, the city of Cortland reached “a unique agreement” in 2015 with the EPA, the state of New York and the Susquehanna and Western railroad to redevelop part of the site into “an intermodal rail-to-road transport facility”; the agreement “ensured that the City would not have responsibility for previous contamination at the site and required that redevelopment construction not damage the cover over the site,” according to the EPA.

According to Mack Cook, the city’s director of administrator and finance, this area along Perplexity Creek near Pendleton Street has had flooding problems for years, but he is not aware of flooding affecting the Superfund site. Moreover, the site is covered to prevent disturbance of the soil.

“That property is entirely capped, which prohibits anything from going more than 18 inches below the surface,” Cook said.

The flooding, he said, has primarily affected two businesses on nearby Huntington Street — Marietta Hospitality and Ames Linen Service. City workers made improvements several years ago to a culvert to handle increased water flow, but the city continues to seek more funding to deal with flooding.

“We applied four times over the past four years for grant funding” with the state Environmental Facilities Corp., so far unsuccessfully, Cook said. The city continues to seek about $5.9 million in flood control funds and will apply again next year.

Cook said he is con dent the Superfund site is safe from flooding.

“It’s all been remediated,” he said. “It’s all been capped.”

Amanda Barber, district manager of the Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation District, said she was not aware of the GAO report and had not yet received any direction from the EPA.

“We haven’t heard anything about this yet,” she said.

If the Rosen Brothers site needs fresh scrutiny, Barber said her office is available to take a look.

“We’re here, and we’re interested,” she said. “We obviously want to make sure the local community is protected.”

The Lincklaen Superfund location is a 13-acre site on Union Valley-Lincklaen Road formerly occupied by Solvent Savers. Between 1967 and 1974, the soil was contaminated with volatile organic compounds and PCBs and the groundwater with arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium and lead. That site has been through extensive remediation — about 15,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil were removed between 2012 and 2014, ac- cording to the EPA; extraction and treatment of contaminated groundwater will be done next year.

The GAO report, prepared at the request of a group of congressmen, made four recommendations. Three of those recommendations dealt with potential effects on the sites from climate change; the EPA rejected all three. The fourth recommendation, which the EPA agreed with, suggested the EPA “establish a schedule for standardizing and improving information on the boundaries of nonfederal NPL (Superfund) sites.”