|The Bridgewater site used to be a gas station|
The clock is running out for the developers of Bridgewater Estate, the proposed senior apartment complex planned for a site on Rt. 104 and Model City Rd.
With new information coming to light following a series published in the Niagara Falls Reporter, sources on the town board, the zoning board and the planning board have told the Reporter that in good conscience they cannot approve the project without a new and full environmental assessment (SEQRA).
Especially in light of news the Reporter broke last week that the site, planned for 138 apartments in a rural part of town, was once the home of a gas station and auto body repair shop.
The SEQRA (environmental review) process was fast tracked for this project when former Lewiston Supervisor Steven L. Reiter signed off on a short form SEQRA in April 2103. Reiter, as supervisor, declared there was nothing to consider when it came to environmental issues for the site.
No one knew at the time that Reiter was a (19 percent) silent partner in the deal.
Instead of Reiter's two-page short form SEQRA, the town will now be asked to consider doing the full environmental, long form SEQRA, required whenever there is doubt as to environmental issues for a property.
The long form asks questions about controversy over the intended use and the town would do a scoping session which requires a meeting where the public can voice their concerns.
Fifty people came out at the last Zoning Board Of Appeals meeting to protest the project. They will probably be at the scoping session. And the town, somewhere along the way, will have to decide how deep they want to go to assure the safety of the people of Lewiston.
As it has been mentioned in previous articles, a prudent board would require a traffic study. The developers would be required to hire an engineer who will measure traffic at peak hours, look at intersections and evaluate accident rates to determine if the project is likely to increase accident rates.
If it is likely, the engineers will make recommendations for remediation such as building a turning a lane, or adding a traffic light. The cost of a traffic study is about $40,000. The developer would pay for this and you can understand why Reiter was eager to sign the short form SEQRA declaring no such studies were needed.
If remediation is needed, the developers might have to put a turn lane in or change the traffic signal at the corner.
That will cost far more.
Then, because there was a gas station and body shop on the site dating back to the 1950's, through the 1970's, a town, doing proper due diligence, would require soil surface sampling, drilling and testing, and water sampling.
It is astounding that Reiter failed to mention his father operated a gas station on the site. But then again he never bothered to mention he was silent partner on the deal either.
The cost of preliminary testing might be $12,000. But if Bridgewater developers "hit" something, then they will have to do more testing depending on the extent of the contamination.
The old gas station had kerosene, diesel and gasoline. If this gas station is anything like a thousand others, there is virtually no way that some petroleum product did not leak and contaminate the soil, either from the old gas pumps, or the piping to the pumps or the underground tanks.
The likelihood of residual contamination is near 100 percent and it is, again, astounding that the town approved this on a short from SEQRA.
For the record, most gas stations that existed pre 1980's contained underground storage tanks; single layer steel tanks that stored petroleum, which made them susceptible to corrosion and leaks. Contamination of groundwater and soil is almost always prevalent where these fragile tanks were used.
Worse, vapor intrusion, caused by industrial chemicals, can migrate from the groundwater as a vapor and enter buildings through the foundation.
Benzene-linked to Leukemia, Toluene-affects the nervous system, Ethylbenzene- linked to reproductive failure, and MTBE- which causes kidney damage - are contaminants frequently found in the soil and groundwater at old gas station sites.
Studies have shown that VOC's can thrive for decades after the initial release, due to lack of air in the ground to break them down. Adjacent buildings can become affected by contamination, due to the flow of groundwater.
What it will cost to clean this up? Anywhere from $10,000 to $200,000. If test show hazardous soils then the developers will have to truck the contaminated soil to a hazardous waste disposal facility and that could run more than $200,000.
Right here in town, the gas station across from Tops Mini Mart had contamination from old tanks so they set up an air stripper that runs air through groundwater and soil. It has been there running 24/7 for 15 years.
Or take the case of current Lewiston Supervisor Dennis Brochey. He sold a property on Main St. recently. Twenty years ago he had Green Environmental pull the gas tanks out. When he sold the property, they did some test drilling (something everyone but Steve Reiter is required to do). They found contaminant product. Further testing led to digging and it was found there was another old tank no one knew about. Brochey spent some $60,000 getting rid of contaminants at that site, because he was honest enough to have tested it.
Yet Reiter signed off (as supervisor) saying his site had no environmental concerns whatsoever.
So let me return to my original premise. Bridgewater is on borrowed time.
They can't win by the town board approving this without a new SEQRA.
A new one will cost them a year and maybe a million dollars.
If the town board approves the project, then a lawsuit commences with the Lewiston International Business Park, owned by Sonja Washuta, owner of Modern Disposal.
State Supreme Court Justice Mark Montour ruled last month in the lawsuit that he would not hear the case Washuta instituted against the town and Bridgewater unless the town approves the project.
The Bridgewater developers legal battle begins when and if the town approves their project.
Modern & Co. will go to court and challenge the conflicts of interest of Reiter. They will challenge the inadequacy of the SEQRA. They will challenge Reiter having signed it. They will challenge the building permit process. They will challenge the l rezoning of the property.
The zoning laws of the town indicate the Bridgewater project is not in character with the neighborhood. You could drive around for two miles and there is nothing like this high density project.
Discovery and depositions will commence. Modern will depose engineers and planners to see how and when the process of rezoning the Bridgewater property (owned by Reiter's mother, Marjorie) began.
Readers may recall that Supervisor Reiter, back in 2012, led the town board to rezone portions of the town including his mother's land.
Strangely, just two weeks after the land was rezoned, in comes Bridgewater (of which Reiter was a silent partner) ready with plans to develop the land based upon its new zoning.
Did Bridgewater's plans begin in advance of the rezoning?
If so, (and this will come out in depositions) then obviously Reiter pushed the town rezoning for his own benefit.
When Modern deposes people, they will ask, "When did you first talk to Reiter about the plan?" and if it turns out it was before the thrust to rezone his mother's property it means Reiter's conflict is a foregone conclusion.
If he was involved in the rezoning of town properties specifically to get his mother's property rezoned for this project, without making it publically known, he was serving his own interest.
Modern will subpoena billing records of law firms, dive into engineering records. Either Reiter discussed rezoning his mother's property with his partner/developers before he set out to rezone, or, by some coincidence, two weeks after he got it rezoned, some partners came by with plans readymade and said "let's build a senior center on the land now that it happens to have the right zoning."
Time will tell.
And time is working - not for - but against- Bridgewater.