Officials Call for NY Times to Clean Up T&G Contamination
Friday, July 13, 2012
The NY Times Company sold a building that was contaminated with asbestos, lead, and other hazardous materials to the non-profit subsidiary of the Worcester Business Development Corporation. While the building’s reduced price of $300,000 does reflect some of the costs, it comes nowhere near the estimated $1.1 million cleanup fee for the site. The company has only agreed to pitch in about 10 percent of the cost to clean up the area.
The Times applied for and received two $200,000 grants for brownfield cleanup for the property. Before the sale, Telegram and Gazette publisher Bruce Gaultney publicly promised that the building was “not a brownfield.”
Many Massachusetts elected officials spoke about the NY Times, saying that it’s a given that they should step up to the plate and pay the costs. They say that taxpayer money shouldn’t be used to cover the bill for someone else’s mess.
“Any corporation, if they have been deemed responsible for something they should be held to it. I think they should be responsible for it,” said Representative John Mahoney. While said he needed to look at the particulars of this case, Mahoney said, “The T&G should pay.”
Mahoney said corporations often try to skirt around these types of issues. “A lot of times the way a lot of corporations are set up, they can go belly up and the rest of it is fine,” he said. “You see that all the time. You have to figure out what does the taxpayer get from the cleaned up building. If the taxpayers get a return on that, it makes it better, but yes, they should pay.”
Corporations Aren’t People
Like Mahoney, Senator Jamie Eldridge spoke about the actions of corporations, saying that if they benefit the community, public money works, but when a corporation is not showing a return to the people, it’s just not fair.
“I do believe very strongly that when any company contaminates the property that they should be responsible for cleaning it up. It should be an automatic,” Eldridge said on this issue. “Generally, I don’t think taxpayer dollars should be used for that purpose, but I can’t speak to the details.”
Eldridge is no stranger to corporate social responsibility.
“I’ve done a lot of work on the side of corporations receiving tax breaks to create jobs,” he said. “When they don’t create jobs with that funding, the corporations should give back the money. That’s been my main focus in corporate accountability.”
While Senator Michael Moore did not speak specifically about the amount that the NY Times should pay in this situation, he agreed that the solution comes from everyone being involved in the financing. “The combined efforts of everyone involved are critical to the success of the City’s long term economic and business goals,” he said. “This project has brought together an important partnership between federal, local and private entities that will help achieve the common goal of improved economic development, tourism, and business growth in the City of Worcester.”
Part of a Project
US Representative Jim McGovern feels that the low sale price of the building is enough, saying that contribution was a positive part of the downtown revitalization.
“The purchase price for the Telegram property was dramatically reduced in anticipation of some environmental clean-up costs,” he said. “In this case, private parties reached an agreement, and I am happy to continue supporting the redevelopment of the property as a critical piece in Downtown and Theater District revitalization.”
City Councilor Konstantina Lukes said that the Times has not helped the downtown enough.
“They should pay back the city for all the city has attempted to in downtown Worcester. It’s encouraging development in downtown,” she said
Worcester City Councilor, Frederick C. Rushton, voiced his opinion on the matter, and agreed that the NY Times has much more of a role in the contamination and should take the burden off of taxpayers and the EPA.
“The EPA is a limited resources,” he said. “We have plenty of brownfields to cleanup in Worcester.”
When asked what the best case scenario would be for this situation, Rushton said, “Hopefully [they will pay] more than 10%. They should pay for it all. They caused it, and we know they caused it.”
Fair is Fair
Councilor Lukes felt similarly, saying, “Here, given the Times’ enormous resources, the fact they might be dumping property on the city should weigh heavily on them,” she said. “It comes a point where you have to practice what you preach and as a newspaper they’re conservative about government intervention and public costs for projects.”
“The Times now knows the extent of the toxic problems,” she said. “They probably should just give it over with some additional monies to cover the costs. Those monies by the way, I’d move for private development projects, but there is usually significant need attached and reason to give public over to private.”
Councilor Kate Toomey, who is running for state representative of Fifteenth Worcester District said, “Whoever was responsible for the pollution should have much more of a responsibility.”
“I understand how expensive it is, and we’ve had a history of funding from federal government with hospitals and things of that nature, but I think it’s the owner’s responsibility in this case.”
Toomey said she was curious about precedents, and observed that while the EPA states that the current owner is responsible for the property, it seems to be handled differently in this case.
“I’d like to see what’s being done in other areas and other facilities that are similar, but it does seem like that burden should be shared a little,” she said. “I think the best outcome would be for the NY Times to take responsibility and work on a settlement with the organization and have more of a payment than what they’re doing now.”
Toomey said she wasn’t sure exactly what that figure should be, but the important thing is their roll in sitting down with other stakeholders and finding a fair solution.
“It’s absolutely an issue of corporate responsibility,” she said. “I think it was their decision to purchase the paper, and they purchased it knowing the facility had some issues. I don’t think they should be able to walk away from that facility.”
Toomey added that she wanted to make it clear she wasn’t “against the Telegram,” but said that the parent company should bear more responsibility.
“They bought it with the full knowledge it was there. In preparation for selling it they probably should have done some work,” she said. “There’s really only a moral and ethical responsibility. They should pay attention and be more equitable in taking care of the issue.”
According to a grant proposal for the project, there is a public hearing scheduled July 24 at 5:30 p.m. at New Garden Park’s offices located at 89 Shrewsbury Street, Worcester.
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