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NY Times Co Only Commits to 10% of Cleanup Cost

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

 

The NY Times Company is only committed to paying 10% of costs to cleanup the hazardous materials at the T&G building, leaving taxpayers footing most of the $1.1 million bill to clean up asbestos, lead, and other contaminants.

“When budgets are being cut left and right, the expectation is that the tax receipts aren't going to be used to help a private company clean up its mess,” Jeff Raymond, a member of the local Republican Town Committee in Millbury, said. Many are concerned that taxpayers are being forced to pay for the costly contamination. He says that the cost should have been built into the sale of the building, keeping taxpayers and government agencies out of it.

After announcing an agreement to pay for cleanup costs associated with contamination left at the former location at 18-20 Franklin Street, NY Times Company is now saying it will only pay $137,500, less than any of the government grants allotted for the cleanup.

Two $200,000 brownfields grants have been awarded to the site from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for hazardous substances, and one from the city’s Brownfield Cleanup Revolving Loan Fund, which is also funded by the EPA.

The NY Times Company sold the property for $300,000 to New Garden Park Inc., a non-profit subsidiary of the Worcester Business Development Corporation responsible for cleaning up brownfields.

Mixed Messages

Before the sale, Telegram and Gazette publisher Bruce Gaultney publicly promised that the building was “not a brownfield.”

According to the EPA’s description of the area, “The site was used for newspaper operations from the early 1900s until 2008, when the company downsized, leaving much of the site vacant. The site is contaminated with heavy metals and inorganic contaminants.”

A survey conducted as part of the grant application process identified approximately 140 asbestos containing materials. Heavy metals and lead were also found.

The New Owners

New Garden Park Inc. was established in part with the purpose of  “lessening the burdens of government” according to its Articles of Organization, written when the organization became a corporation, although much of the funding involved with their new ownership of the property has come from the government-run EPA.

GoLocal reached out to New Garden Park, but Project Manager, Jonathan Weaver was unavailable for comment.

EPA Involvement

While the issue has many local taxpayers and the Citizens for Limited Taxation upset for the costs of the cleanup, some have also voiced concern that EPA funding for the site might be even more problematic for taxpayers. Raymond says that because of the EPA's distance from the issue, taxpayers fitting the bill for national projects and cleanups will never be connected with their tax money and the benefits.

“The EPA's involvement means that taxpayers out West end up helping prop up a local newspaper they've never heard of and would otherwise have no relationship with,” said Raymond. “Worse, those taxpayers are unlikely to ever know it happened. Just hundreds of thousands of dollars to some local company they've never heard of.”

Changing the Story

The Telegram originally posted the story “T&G to help fund cleanup of its longtime home” on June 26th but the original story headline is no longer visible on their website. The headline of the story launched that day now reads, “Buyer lining up financing for cleanup of longtime T&G property” and makes no mention of the company’s initial agreement to pay for the cleanup.

Fitting the Bill

The remaining portion of the cost will be funded through federal and local taxpayer money, unless another agreement is reached or more grant funding is allocated.

“Assuming the local money is going to help cleanup, it's more that people expect that the money go to help the general local interest – roads for people to use, schools for people to learn, to help pay public servants for their work,” Raymond said.

Raymond added that the issue could have easily been dealt with without taxpayer finance or EPA funding: “This is absolutely a type of project that could be baked into the cost of the sale of the building,” he said. “That tax dollars are being allocated for private cleanup projects makes no sense, especially in the context of the current economic and budgetary situation locally as well as nationally.”

When GoLocal last spoke with Mayor Joe Petty, he was noncommittal on whether the Times Company should shoulder the cost of cleaning up the contaminated Worcester Telegram & Gazette site, which currently rests squarely on taxpayers' shoulders.

"You've got to get a real cost figure," Petty said, noting the sale price of $300,000 reflected the contamination of the building. "Once more information comes up, I'd look at it."

Other Alternatives

In the Worcester Business Development Corporation’s EPA cleanup grant application, Timothy J. Clinton and David JP Foss of Fuss and O’Neill discussed three plans for the site with Dorrie Paar of the EPA.

Two additional alternatives listed in the letter included doing nothing and abatement and encapsulation of the hazardous materials – something deemed bad for a long term solution and future building use.

The current project of removing and disposing of the asbestos containing materials relies heavily on proper handling.

“The extent of interior demolition and renovation activities necessary to facilitate this goal will result in disturbance of (asbestos containing materials) and hazardous materials throughout the building,” the letter reads. “Without appropriate prior action, uncontrolled release of asbestos and hazardous materials during interior demolition and renovation will pose unacceptable health risk to renovation workers, building visitors, and residents and visitors of nearby properties.” 

 

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