LOCKPORT – Veteran Lockport attorney Morgan L. Jones Jr. said Thursday he suspects ash dumped in a ravine in western Lockport came from the old city incinerator, but state environmental officials say they haven't been able to find proof.

That could be good news for city taxpayers, because it means the state, not the city, will have to foot the bill for a proposed $10.5 million remediation of the site, much of which is now privately owned.

The public comment period runs through March 28, and a formal decision on the cleanup plan is expected shortly thereafter, Kristen Davidson, spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said after a public meeting in City Hall.

Glenn M. May of the DEC said work on the former landfill is expected to last about nine months, and work to remove contaminated sediment from the adjoining headwaters of Gulf Creek might take two years. Davidson said the soonest work would begin would be late 2014.

May said the DEC suspects that the ash, which is as much as 78 feet deep in spots, came from burning of household trash. The city operated a dump above the ravine from about 1921 to 1951, but written records are lacking as to how the ash might have gotten there.

Jones said during the meeting, “I expect a lot of it was brought in when the incinerator on Hinman Road was shut down … It was about a 40-square-foot brick building.”

Alderman Joseph C. Kibler also remembers the incinerator. He said at Wednesday's Common Council meeting, “We did have an incinerator. We used to dump [the ash] on State Road.”

“No one keeps documentation back to the '20s,” May said. “The person who told us who dumped there died in the '90s.”

His DEC colleague, project manager Greg Sutton, said the department's Office of General Counsel will continue looking for responsible parties once the official cleanup decision is made.

May said, “We've come to expect this is ultimately going to be a state Superfund project.”

Mayor Michael W. Tucker said Wednesday, “If they want to clean it up, God bless them. It's something we don't have to worry about.”

The state's plan is to shove the ash near the bottom of the ravine, throw in the sediment to be dredged from the creek and place a multilayer cap atop the whole pile.

“We'll be moving massive amounts of material,” Sutton said. There are 200,000 cubic yards of ash alone.

Testing shows the ash contains household trash along with levels of lead, barium, arsenic and copper that are higher than DEC cleanup targets for commercial sites.

The sediment in the 4,400-foot creek segment between Old Upper Mountain Road and Niagara Street contains copper, lead, nickel and zinc, May said.

Sutton said care will be taken to avoid damage during the work to a city sewer main, the “Gulf interceptor,” that runs through the site.