TechCity cleanup not too fast, not too slow

While the cleanup at TechCity hasn’t gone as quickly as he hoped, Ulster Town Supervisor James E. Quigley III said it may just be enough to stop the town from seeking legal action against owner Alan Ginsberg.

Six buildings totaling 943,350 square feet have been demolished at TechCity this year, with the largest, B025 coming in at 277,571 square feet. B002 (48,267 square feet), B003 (274,291 square feet), B004 (41,748 square feet), B034 (8,364 square feet), and B035 (18,181 square feet.) also came down. A seventh building, B0001 (274,928 square feet), got its demolition permit last year, but the permit has expired and the building still stands.

The cleanup of debris has been too slow for the town; Quigley described deadlines for action as something of a moving target. In June, councilmen discussed the possibility of a deadline by the end of September, and while they expressed frustration with the process they also noted that the contract of a removal contractor hired by Ginsberg had been mutually terminated.

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This week, Quigley noted that Ginsberg had recently provided a report claiming to have removed 138 tons of metal as part of ongoing efforts, and combined with other removal of debris it might give the courts the impression that enough is happening that legal action isn’t needed.

“It’s very clear to me they’re not going to be finished by the end of the year,” said Quigley. “I have said before that, if they were not making progress and if they had stopped doing anything, the town would go to court like it had in the past in other instances to ask for judicial [help] giving the town the authority to go in and clean it up. That being said, they are making progress, and because they are making some progress I don’t think a judge would say that they’re non-compliant with the town’s request, and the town would not be given authorization to go in and do the cleanup. Not that I’m seeking to do the cleanup, I’m not. What I’m seeking to do is get the cleanup done expeditiously. And that clearly is something that we don’t have an understanding of, as to what ‘expeditiously’ is.”

Quigley added that he believed the delays in removing the debris, as well as the demolition itself, is a matter of money.

“I think the current actions are just a continuation of a series of actions that are designed within the economic environment that Mr. Ginsberg is operating in,” Quigley said. “Nothing more, nothing less.”

Ginsberg bought the 258-acre former IBM property in 1998. IBM moved onto the property in the mid-‘50s, expanding their mainframe computer testing facilities through the ‘80s, when it had over 7,000 employees. But soon it began moving its jobs to its Dutchess County facility, and IBM officially left the property in 1995. Three years later, Ginsberg paid more than $3 million for the property, with the hopes of turning it into a vibrant multi-use commercial park called TechCity.

The property has run into numerous issues, dating back to the discovery in the late-‘70s by IBM of pockets of underground contamination; IBM was deemed responsible for its cleanup by the state after it was made public in 2012 when TechCity Properties went before the Ulster Town Board and asked to rezone the 138.4-acre East Campus of the property as a Redevelopment Overlay District in the hopes of making that portion more appealing to potential tenants.

The contamination of undiluted trichloroethane has since been treated through in-situ thermal desorption, which uses electrical conductive rods in the soil to vaporize the contaminants; the vapors are then removed with vacuums that separate the contaminants through condensation. The process treats the soil without actually removing it. But Quigley this week said the demolition and removal process is threatening to prevent the completion of the contamination remediation project.

“I’m a little bit disappointed that because some of the debris piles that are in there currently are inhibiting IBM from completing the final phase of the in-ground remediation,” Quigley said. “I’m only hopeful that by the springtime those areas will be cleared and IBM will wrap up the remediation.”

Ginsberg last year announced his intention to sell the property, and the demolition of the buildings is believed to be an effort to reduce its assessed value in advance of any potential purchase. In June, Quigley said that the town agreed to the demolition with the understanding that the debris would be removed in a timely manner. As 2016 draws to a close, Quigley and the town council said they’re unsure exactly when the project will be completed.

Meanwhile, the town is dealing with tax certiorari issues relating to the property. According to an appellate-level court ruling in April, a lower-court ruling from 2014 that ruled in the town’s favor didn’t have all the information provided by TechCity that it previously attempted to lower its property assessment. As a result, the town owes around $785,000 for 22 of the property’s 26 parcels after TechCity challenged its assessment for the years 2010-12. The ruling reduced the assessment from $44 million to $30 million, which was automatically implemented through 2015. According to Quigley, TechCity is suing the town for a reduction of the 2016 assessment as well.

Ginsberg could not be reached for comment.

The next meeting of the Town Board is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 5 at Town Hall.

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