A call to clean up old gas stations

A call to clean up old gas stations

Source: Buffalo News, July 19, 2012
Posted on: http://envfpn.advisen.com

Nearly 350 vacant and abandoned gas stations scattered across upstate New York pose a significant hazard to people and the environment, and hinder efforts to redevelop parts of downtown areas that could serve as gateways to business districts.

That was the warning issued Wednesday by U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, as he called for Congress to extend now-expired brownfields tax credits that could serve as an incentive for property owners, municipalities and developers to clean up the sites.

“Scores of gas stations sit vacant and abandoned across upstate New York, acting as detriments to downtown development and potentially serious hazards to human environmental health,” Schumer said in a telephone press conference. “Gas stations can look like small fixer-uppers above ground, but may have lots of problems beneath.”

Those problems are generally caused by leaking underground storage tanks.

Cleaning them up, he said, will help spur not only redevelopment of those properties, but economic development overall in downtowns that sorely need it.

“Most developers know that if it’s a gas station, it’s a potentially hazardous brownfield and they need help to clean it up,” Schumer said. “The brownfields tax incentive provides the boost that local developers need to make the cleanup worth every penny.”

Brownfield sites refer to ground that is polluted and contaminated by any of a host of hazardous materials that can leach into the groundwater or otherwise pose a threat to the environment and humans if not cleaned up. They can range from old refineries and manufacturing facilities to gas stations and laundromats.

According to Environmental Protection Agency statistics cited by Schumer, petroleum brownfields — ground contaminated by gas — represent half of all 450,000 brownfield sites nationwide..

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 344 gas stations in upstate New York were “disestablished” between 2001 and 2010, including 62 in the eight-county Western New York region. Specifically, there are 32 sites just in Erie County, with another 11 in Chautauqua County, eight in Cattaraugus County, five in Orleans County, four in Allegany County and two in Wyoming County. BLS did not have statistics for Niagara or Genesee counties.

The sites are largely in commercial areas, and they are monitored by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. But cleaning them up costs money.

The brownfields tax credit would help cover the environmental cleanup costs of converting eligible properties to usable land, by enabling local developers and small-business owners to deduct those expenses in the year in which they’re incurred.

Schumer said the brownfields credit had a “real positive effect” in the past, but congressional gridlock allowed it to expire. He said the Senate plans to pass a bipartisan extension of certain tax incentives and other provisions in the coming months, and he “will push hard” to ensure the brownfields incentives are included.

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