Nine years ago, for $1,200, a Dunkirk native bought a piece of land from the City of Lockport that contained a three-story, 16,000 square-foot building. His plan was to demolish the building and convert the property, which used to be an industrial power plant, into a gas station. But that never happened.
Within days of purchasing the property, New York State halted the purchaser’s plan to demolish the building because he had disturbed asbestos from the old power plant without (1) conducting an asbestos survey or (2) hiring a licensed contractor to remove it. His problems didn’t end there, either. More and more environmental issues associated with the property began to pile up that could be extremely expensive for the Dunkirk native.
In 2012, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (the “EPA”) added the property to the federal Superfund list, and then demolished most of the building a couple of years later. And because the Superfund law allows the government to recover cleanup costs, the Dunkirk native could end up being responsible for the $2.3 million that the EPA spent on demolition and cleanup.
In 2013, he was fined $40,000 for violations of the City building code (allegedly failing to remove a dumpster containing asbestos from the property, leaving the dumpster open, and allowing the wind to blow the asbestos around the neighborhood).
After the EPA discovered an underground fuel storage tank at the property, in 2016, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (the “DEC”) spent $68,000 to remove it, and recommended a $17,000 fine.
To make matters worse, the Dunkirk native also racked up $6,000 each year in unpaid property taxes. However, the environmental issues with the Property were so bad that the City didn’t seek to foreclose on it.
This story should serve as a teachable moment: Don’t underestimate the importance of environmental due diligence. If you’re considering buying a piece of property that used to be a power plant, industrial facility, or gas station, check to see if there’s a history of contamination or another risk factor that may result in environmental liability. If you’re considering buying such a property to develop, or only discover such problems after purchasing it, contact an experienced environmental attorney to help understand the risks, options, and how to move forward. As the Dunkirk man’s story demonstrates, the cost of going it alone, or “figuring it out” as you go along, could be significant. So don’t risk it!
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