The TechCity situation got a lot harder last week for owner Alan Ginsberg, already under considerable pressure from local governmental authorities. He now faces a new round of deadlines from the regional office of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Ulster County executive Pat Ryan’s press conference late Wednesday morning, December 18 in Kingston underlined just how serious the situation has become for the embattled owner of the sprawling, obsolete, polluted and ill-maintained 258-acre former IBM plant in the Town of Ulster.
Noting that the EPA has spent considerable public funds on the TechCity site, a December 11 letter from agency official Eric J. Wilson focused on the asbestos hazards at the site, including several hill-size piles protected from above by torn tarpaulin. EPA’s participation is particularly significant, however, because the federal agency has the power to hold owner Ginsberg, identified as a “responsible party” owning what is now a Superfund site, personally liable for environmental problems at TechCity.
“That’s a really big deal,” exulted county executive Ryan at his press conference.
The power to treat the rights or duties of a corporation as the rights or liabilities of its shareholders is known in law as “piercing the corporate
veil.” Thus, the veil of multiple legal entities that Ginsberg has created at TechCity will not protect him from personal responsibility. The EPA has enormous leverage in the situation.
As an initial measure, EPA said, the regulated asbestos-containing materials had to be covered with tarpaulin within seven business days of TechCity’s receipt of the EPA letter. EPA requires an agreement for encapsulating and removing the hazardous asbestos, and it will monitor progress.
Ryan’s aides praised the role of former GOP assemblyperson Pete Lopez, now EPA director for the federal agency’s New York region. Lopez had been instrumental in the EPA action.
The necessary work is to be conducted “by appropriate personnel that meet all local, state and federal requirements for work in a contaminated environment.” EPA has to be notified by December 30 of TechCity’s interest in performing or financing the work. If the owner can’t pay for the work, “please so indicate and EPA will then supply you with a list of documentation that you will need to submit to EPA.” If the EPA has to do some or all the asbestos-removal work, the owner could be held to be liable for its costs under law. An order of consent expects work to begin in late January 2020, weather permitting.
EPA’s pressure on TechCity to clean up the asbestos contamination may be the last straw for
Alan Ginsberg’s ambitions. In late September, Pat Ryan had told a Town of Ulster meeting that foreclosure proceedings had been taken on some of the TechCity parcels because Ginsberg hadn’t done his part to address issues at the former IBM plant. Ryan promised to use “all the tools we have to exert pressure on the ownership there to get out of the situation.”
In early November, Ryan announced a county takeover of two tax-delinquent TechCity properties, though not the ones with the polluted piles. He had promised that under county government control the site would have a positive impact on the county’s future success.
Ginsberg took the county to court on the takeover a few days later.
A news release from Ryan’s office stated that “Ginsberg’s companies… also owe more than $12 million in back school and property taxes on the entire Tech City complex.”
Ulster town supervisor Jim Quigley, who also spoke at the Wednesday press conference, said EPA’s December 30 deadline would require TechCity to present not only a technical plan but also a financial plan. Ginsberg would be responsible for any lack of performance under the consent order to which the parties would agree. Quigley thought Ginsberg would do the work the EPA demanded. Ryan showed an image of a million-dollar Miami Beach condo Ginsberg owned that might be at risk if he walked away from TechCity.
Quigley worries about the impact on his town of the county taking the property off the tax rolls. Declining Ulster commercial values have added to the tax burdens of that town’s residential property owners. On the other hand, county has the wherewithal to rectify the problems in the long term. Quigley predicted further foreclosure actions by the county to clarify the problems at TechCity.