The mayor of Cohoes is moving forward with a plan to demolish a public housing complex near the beleaguered Norlite factory.
Democratic Mayor Bill Keeler is asking the Cohoes Housing Authority Board of Commissioners to approve the sale of public housing ownership of the Saratoga sites to the city as soon as all residents are relocated away from the waste incineration facility dangerous from Norlite.
The relocation initiative was conceived in January 2020. The Cohoes Housing Authority recently advised the city that it is proceeding with an application with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to begin relocating residents from Saratoga sites.
Longtime resident Joe Ritchie says that while new housing is being built in Cohoes that could help accommodate displaced residents from Saratoga sites, he wonders if some of it will be ready in time for residents move in.
“There are properties being built around the city of Cohoes that are apparently income-based, but they haven’t been completed yet,” Ritchie said. “And apparently the Housing Authority will be moving people out by the summer. So, you know, it’s all contingent on HUD approval. Nothing has happened with HUD yet. So I guess we’re all we’re still talking about, hypothetically, the housing authority is fairly certain they’ll get HUD approval so it’s a waiting game but I hear a lot of people say they have scared and they don’t know, they don’t know what to do even with all these options.”
HUD had no one immediately available to comment.
Former EPA regional administrator Judith Enck says the demolition of the Saratoga sites does not solve the long-term problem: a highly polluting hazardous waste incinerator located in the middle of town.
“I appreciate Mayor Keeler’s concern for the health of the people who live in Norlite’s shadow,” Enck said. “But rather than interrupting the lives of 70 families, people who have lived there for decades, let’s interrupt the pattern of pollution coming from Norlite, this is an interesting time. The State Department of Environmental Conservation of New York, in my opinion, should reject the new Norlite permits, and people wouldn’t have to move.”
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation responded to an email request for comment, writing in part, “The state’s permitting timeline is not policy. of DEC, it is the State Administrative Procedures Act, and any change would require an act of the State Legislature.”
The agency also says it “shares serious concerns about the conditions” at the Norlite factory, and that its top priority is “to hold Norlite accountable for its impact on surrounding communities, including frontline neighborhoods for environmental justice”.
Cohoes Housing Authority officials put the cost to the city of buying the property at $35,000. After acquiring the property, the city would assume responsibility for the estimated $600,000 cost of demolishing the subdivision.
Enck also wonders if it’s a good idea to demolish the Saratoga sites and declare the land “shovel ready” for industrial use.
“I think if the City of Cohoes is going to buy the land, they should test the soil first to make sure they don’t inherit a lot of the blame for past contamination,” he said. Enck. “But if the City of Cohoes were to take control of the land, you wouldn’t want another round of environmental problems to result. For example, you wouldn’t want to open it to workers who will be there all day and be exposed to Norlite pollution, just like residents of the Saratoga sites. I might consider it as an area for solar panels if there is enough southern exposure. I could envision it as a parking area. But the last thing you want is another dirty industry coming in or Norlite expanding. We should not see parts of communities become areas of environmental sacrifice. »
Norlite responded to an email request for comment, saying it was in the process of renewing its New York State environmental permits with DEC, and noting that while it “is not involved in the Cohoes Housing Authority’s decision to sell the Saratoga sites”, she feels “an industrial user” for the site “is appropriate given its zoning and location”.
The city’s purchase of the property, once the residents have been relocated and the disposition process completed, would require Cohoes City Council approval. Council Chairman William McCarthy told WAMC that the panel will discuss the Saratoga sites when it meets tonight. He stressed that there would be “no voting, just talking”.