NYS denies funding to Lackawanna for old Bethlehem Steel site demolition

LACKAWANNA, N.Y. (WIVB)- Lackawanna’s Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski says he feels abandoned, after learning the state will not reimburse the City of Lackawanna for costs associated with the old Bethlehem Steel plant fire.

“We had a lot of state officials come by and tell us that we weren’t alone, that they’ll do everything they can to fight for us, and pretty much just said ‘don’t worry about it, we’ll cover it,” Szymanski says.

“During an emergency you can’t worry about cost. You have to worry about getting to fix the problem.”

And that’s what Szymanski says he did during the four-day inferno along Route 5 in Lackawanna back in November.

From overtime, to two emergency demolitions, asbestos screening, and rental equipment, he says the blaze at the old Bethlehem Steel site cost Lackawanna more than $650,000.

“We had a healthy fund balance and we had to tap into our fund balance just to pay off our bills.”

Monday, Szymanski made public a letter from the Executive Deputy Commissioner of the State’s division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, Terence O’Leary.

The letter indicates the state did its part by providing man power during the fire.

“I was very disappointed. As a matter of fact I got quite angry with it because I was under the assurance that we would be getting at least some form of reimbursement. It never came,” Lackawanna’s Mayor tells News 4.

In another statement,  DHSES spokesperson Kristin Devoe says:

“New York State provided significant assistance from several State Agencies to assist the City of Lackawanna with its response efforts following the fire at the Bethlehem Steel Plant. This included staff and equipment from DHSES as well as the Departments of Health, Environmental Conservation and Transportation. Unfortunately, there is no fund or expenditure appropriation in the State’s budget to pay for the costs as the City requested.”

Szymanski says he’s grateful for the staff he worked with directly last fall, and credits the DOT, Department of Health, and the DEC for assisting his residents in the days and weeks after the fire was put out.

“The state has been good to work with on that matter, but when you kind of count on the financial aspect and the state pulls their pocket out and shrugs and says we can’t afford it, it doesn’t feel too good,” he says.

The City of Lackawanna plans to place a tax levy on the owners of the site, Great Lakes Industrial Development, to help reimburse the City for demolition costs.

Szymanski tells News 4 “We didn’t knock down our own buildings. We knocked down their buildings.”

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