Thursday, 27 July 2017 17:38

Vacant Village Dry Cleaner No Closer to Renewal

[Larisa Romanowski and Don Graham of the EPA in Ballston Spa. Photos by Larry Goodwin.]

BALLSTON SPA — Federal and state environmental officials appeared at a public forum inside the Elks Lodge this week to discuss chemical contamination that is lingering inside the Rickett’s dry-cleaning facility.

No one could say for sure how soon the one-and-a-half acre site—widely viewed as a blot on the village landscape—would be cleaned up and readied for a new business.

“There’s definitely contamination migrating. It leaves us in a quandary,” explained Don Graham, the on-scene coordinator for the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who supervised “vapor intrusion” tests at 50 homes near the Rickett’s property earlier this year.

In May, results of those EPA tests indicated that no serious contamination of homes had occurred. Most of the properties tested are downhill from Rickett’s, on the eastern side of Doubleday Avenue (Route 50), while a smaller number are located behind the deteriorating structure.

Ballston Spa Mayor John Romano said the test results were “the best news you could hope for” in terms of “human health and safety.” He also praised Graham, Larisa Romanowski, the community involvement coordinator, and other EPA officials for being “very responsive and thorough.” 

After Rickett’s closed for business in 2014, it was discovered that a substantial amount of chemicals had saturated concrete floors inside the building. As groundwater levels rise and fall over time, Graham said, the chemicals are carried away.

Dozens of Ballston Spa residents attended the forum and asked questions about various related issues.

“The facility’s very contaminated,” Graham told Hyde Boulevard homeowner Sander Bonvell, who has thoroughly researched the history of the Rickett’s site.

Michael Bashore, a Ballston Spa firefighter, reported that the village’s all-volunteer fire departments have a standing policy of not pumping out flooded basements near Rickett’s because of the chemical contamination. He said caution is advised as long as the environmental agencies involved “will not say it’s okay” to do so. 

Other village residents voiced concerns about the homeowners behind Rickett’s if and when an actual cleanup commences, and for the safety of pedestrians who currently navigate the sidewalks right next to the property.

Graham assured them that there is minimal danger, before acknowledging that any further study of such matters would be conducted by the state Department of Health.

Chris Tebbens, a U.S. Navy veteran whose wife Erika earned nearly half of the votes cast for village justice in a March election, asked how soon the Rickett’s property would be “released” for a new use.

“This is a little more complex because it’s a groundwater issue,” offered Michael Dipietro, an environmental geologist for the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

There is a “transitioning” taking place that enables the DEC to be the “lead agency” from this point forward, according to Graham. 

Upon further questioning Dipietro tried to explain the complicated process of state and federal funding for environmental remediation at contaminated sites like Rickett’s.

“It will move forward,” he told the crowd.

DEC engineer Eric Obrecht, who accompanied Dipietro, noted how some developers are willing to acquire vacant properties if that type of funding covers the costs of needed cleanup projects. 

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