LOCKPORT – The city filed a foreclosure action in State Supreme Court this week, the last step necessary before a cleanup can begin at the Peters Dry Cleaning site on Willow Street.
Mayor Michael W. Tucker said demolition might begin as soon as next week on the ruined store, which also is listed by the state as an inactive hazardous waste site.
Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano said the city doesn’t know when a judge might sign the foreclosure order, but Tucker said the city exchanged paperwork with the state Department of Environmental Conservation this week, and action is coming soon at the store, located in an otherwise residential neighborhood.
“Once we get the title, which is up to the judge, it could be imminent,” the mayor said.
Tucker said the DEC will pay the entire remediation cost through the state Superfund; the city will pay nothing.
“They’re going to knock it down, clean it up and backfill it,” Tucker said.
He said the dirt, polluted by dry cleaning chemicals spilled on the ground decades ago, will be removed “down to the bedrock” and replaced with clean fill.
The city then will have a safe, buildable home lot to sell, Tucker said.
DEC spokeswoman Lori Severino refused to discuss the agency’s specific plans because the city has yet to obtain title to the premises. It is barred from the property until then.
“On-site soil sampling would be the first step,” she said.
“I don’t think there’s a lot there,” Tucker said. “I don’t think the chemicals traveled very far. They checked the adjacent lots.”
The west end of the brick building, dating from 1934, caved in Dec. 15, 2011. Owner Patrick McFall and the city became embroiled in a dispute over the cleanup, with the city insisting on an asbestos study on the ruins and McFall resisting the notion.
By May 2012, the city had cited McFall for failure to clean up the wreckage at the store, which McFall’s business had vacated shortly before the collapse.
After an extended court battle, McFall was jailed for a few days by order of City Judge Thomas M. DiMillo, who convicted him of code violations. However, McFall’s attorneys belatedly discovered he had been entitled to a jury trial, and DiMillo turned McFall loose.
More months of wrangling followed, until McFall finally entered a plea bargain Nov. 20. He admitted to violating the city’s sanitary code and was placed on three years’ probation, while also agreeing to pay $31,876.69 in restitution to the city at a rate of at least $200 a month.
The payments were primarily for delinquent property taxes and water and sewer bills on the store.
The business was founded as Grant Dry Cleaning in 1927 by Rollin T. Grant, who later became mayor of Lockport. In 1972, he sold the business to Earl W. Peters, who changed the name. Peters sold out to McFall, a longtime employee, in 2007.
Both Peters and McFall have denied spilling any chemicals on the ground during their tenures as owner. Peters told The Buffalo News in 2011 he had spent $200,000 on cleanup efforts.
The type of chemicals in the ground, found in tests after neighbors complained of vapors, haven’t been used in cleaning shops since the 1970s.