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No word from state on Ithaca Gun funding


Three months after work halted at Ithaca Gun, there's still no word about when or if demolition debris piles will be removed, though the developer is still eager to move forward on redevelopment plans.

In August, the developers behind the proposal to demolish the gun factory and replace it with high-end condos announced that because of cleanup cost overruns, they didn't have the money to pay their contractors, and work stopped.

The city had received two grants to help re-develop Ithaca Gun: $700,200 to pay for cleanup of a public walking trail to the Ithaca Falls overlook, and a $2.3 million Restore NY grant to help cover cleanup and redevelopment costs on the privately owned portion of the site.

The Restore NY grant, administered by the Empire State Development Corp., specified that $1.46 million should go toward cleanup and the remaining $840,000 would underwrite re-development.

When work stopped in August, Ithaca's Common Council voted within a few days to ask Empire State Development to move the re-development money to the cleanup pot.

Since then, Mayor Carolyn Peterson said, she and city staff have been pushing Empire State Development to transfer the money as quickly as possible.

"I'm very disappointed that it's taken so long to get a decision out of the Albany and New York City offices," Peterson said. "At first I really wanted it cleaned up before the students returned. That's how far back we're going. And now my goal is to have it gone before the freeze sets in."

Two members of the Ithaca Gun Community Advisory Group -- Toxics Targeting President Walter Hang and Tompkins County Legislator Kathy Luz Herrera, D-City and Town of Ithaca, Cayuga Heights -- opposed transferring the money.

"While I strongly support the comprehensive cleanup of the Ithaca Gun site, I am highly concerned that the proposed reallocation of $840,000 is being considered without any proposed scope of required work, budget or regulatory oversight," Hang wrote in a letter to Empire State Development. "Unless proposed reallocations receive stringent oversight, the program would invite fraud, abuse and misuse of public funds."

Other group members have been silent, or have favored moving the money. Advisory Group Chairwoman Sarah Steuteville said she hopes Empire State Development will transfer the money.

"I know where Walter and Kathy Luz Herrera are coming from and it has to do with these feelings that these people are not being responsive to the needs and interests of the community, therefore let's stop working with them and get something going that does make sense. I understand that; however, I do feel that we're better off than we were a year ago and I would like the piles gone ASAP," she said.

A spokeswoman for Empire State Development could provide no estimate on when the agency might make a decision on transferring the money.

"ESD is in discussions with the City of Ithaca regarding this money transfer -- there are complicated questions that we are working out," spokeswoman Laura Magee said by e-mail. "In general, ESD does not comment on ongoing negotiations."

One continuing source of frustration for Fall Creek neighbors has been the seeming inability of the property owner and his consultants, O'Brien & Gere, to keep tarps secured over debris piles, some of which have tested above safety standards for lead or PCBs.

Last week, the tarps were uncovered for almost a week before DEC Regional Director Ken Lynch personally intervened.

"They're off all the time," Steuteville said, disbelieving about why it's so difficult to keep tarps on top of piles. "I mean, these guys are engineers."

Calls to O'Brien & Gere vice president and Ithaca Gun project manager Peter Grevelding's office Friday and Monday were not returned.

Developer Frost Travis said he agrees the piles should be covered at all times, "whether it's just a bunch of dust or whether there's a very serious health concern, which I don't think there is."

It's the responsibility of property owner Wally Diehl and his Fall Creek Redevelopment to keep the piles covered, DEC spokeswoman Diane Carlton said by e-mail.

"DEC has contacted Fall Creek representatives on multiple occasions to re-cover the piles and worked with them to implement a more effective and secure covering system which should be implemented within the week," Carlton said.

To cover the $840,000 shortfall on the redevelopment side, Travis said he's proposing to increase the number of condos from 33 to 45.

The change wouldn't increase the height of the project -- one of the primary concerns that derailed previous redevelopment plans, Travis said. Because demolition debris had to be removed rather than recycled on-site, that means the site's elevation is lower and an extra floor of living spaces can be added, he said.

"I would very much like to see the site cleaned up as quickly as possible, and we really are depending on the state to come through on this for us," he said.

"It doesn't serve anyone's interest, not mine, not the mayor's, not Fall Creek Redevelopment, not O'Brien & Gere's, especially not the community's interest to have that be a big pile there. I mean, we are so close to having this project complete. I would say that already an enormous hazard has been removed and what remains relative to what was there before is small. We just need to see this through to the end."