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Former gas plant cleanup nearing completion

PENN YAN--The state-ordered waste cleanup in and around a former manufactured gas plant in Penn Yan, including dredging in the Keuka Outlet, is expected to be completed by year-end, the state Department of Environmental Conservation said last week.
The 0.815-acre site, which is owned by NYSEG, is bounded by Liberty Street, Water Street, the Keuka Outlet and a granary.
If NYSEG's contractors can finish remediation on schedule within the next 10 weeks, it would cap a cleanup effort that began more than 30 years ago and wound through a complex court proceeding that generated 90,000 pages of documents.
The cleanup includes "removal of coal tar 'source areas'" and "excavation and off-site disposal of contaminated soil from the site and sediment in the Keuka Lake Outlet immediately adjacent and downstream of the site," the DEC said in a statement.
In 2015, the DEC had said it expected cleanup at the Penn Yan facility to be completed by May 2018.
The agency attributed the latest delay to the need to shore up an historic stone building on the property.
"The cleanup ... was delayed to accommodate the village of Penn Yan's request to save the building, which was not accounted for (initially)," the DEC said. "The request required the building to be stabilized prior to commencing the remedial work."
Officials at Avangrid, NYSEG's parent company, did not respond to emailed questions regarding the Penn Yan project's total cost and scheduled completion date. (Connecticut-based Avangrid controls $32 billion in utility assets in 24 states.)
NYSEG has claimed in court documents that it spent $291,997 in remediation costs at the Penn Yan site between 1994 and 2009. Since then, expenditures have soared over $10 million, according to published reports.
But that's only a fraction of the total sum the company has spent on cleanups at more than 30 manufactured gas plant sites, or MGPs, in New York state.
In 2003, NYSEG filed a civil suit in federal court in a bid to recover a portion of its costs from other parties, including FirstEnergy Corp. That case focused on 16 MGP facilities--including sites in Ithaca, Elmira, Corning, Geneva and Cortland--where financial responsibility was in dispute.
Before that case went to trial in 2010, NYSEG claimed it had already spent roughly $100 million cleaning up the 16 sites. It said it expected to have to pay another $144 million to complete the task, according to a 2011 court order resolving the case.
That order, written by U.S. Magistrate Judge David E. Peebles, noted American utilities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries commonly burned coal to produce gas.
"MGP facilities generated significant quantities of byproducts, including coal tar and oils, containing what have come to be regarded as hazardous substances," Peebles wrote.
The cleanup in Penn Yan and other sites had been well underway even before NYSEG filed its suit in 2003.
A 1994 consent order between the DEC and NYSEG had required the company to remediate 33 MGP sites.
That mandate was part of what agency claims to be one of the "most aggressive" MGP remediation programs in the country. "This effort has resulted in approximately 235 sites identified for action by eight utilities operating" in the state, the agency said.
The coal gasification plant in Penn Yan was built in 1899 by Penn Yan Gas Light Co. New York Central Electric Corp. bought PYGLC in 1926 before merging with NYSEG in 1936.
In 1943, NYSEG sold most of the property to Penn Yan Wine Cellars, which operated it until 1990, when NYSEG bought it back.
During its 30 years of operation, the MGP facility produced 317 million cubic feet of gas.
The first in-depth investigation of environmental hazards at the site was completed in 1986. Six years later NYSEG removed a tar tank and cleaned a tar holder at the site.
In 2008, NYSEG hired the consultant AECOM to investigate the nature and extent of MGP residues and evaluate potential risks to human health.
In 2012 the DEC issued a decision mandating the excavation and removal of the following:
-- Exposed surface soil.
-- Sub-surface solid exceeding 500 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) of total semi-volatile organic compounds.
-- Sub-surface soils exceeding 10 mg/kg of total volatile organic compounds.
-- Soils with visible non-aqueous phase liquid, or NAPL, sheens.
-- Sub-surface former MGP structures.
-- Sediment with visible NAPL sheen or which produce a visible sheen when agitated.
-- Sediment in the Keuka Lake Outlet which contains greater than 43mg/kg total polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs.
PAHs occur naturally in coal, crude oil and gasoline and when coal, oil, garbage and tobacco are burned, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Several of the PAHs and some specific mixtures of PAHs are considered to be cancer-causing chemicals," the CDC reports in an online fact sheet.
A 2012 study by Missouri State University stated elevated levels of PAHs "are believed to cause cancer, genetic damage, and newborn development problems in humans, and can negatively affect aquatic life in stream systems."
The village of Penn Yan just recently installed a new pedestrian bridge across the Keuka Outlet in roughly the same place as a former railroad trestle that was removed during an earlier stage of the cleanup.

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