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June 10, 2013

Bridge workers found toxic surprise in Neahwa Park in 1988

Plans were in place to build a permanent bridge over the millrace to enter Neahwa Park from Gas Avenue in Oneonta in June 1988. That roadway is known today as James Georgeson Avenue. 

The old bridge had been demolished in May, and city workers had begun preliminary work to install the new bridge. What they found in doing some digging was coal tar, a problem that would plague the area for several years to come.

“The material is toxic and hazardous,” said Eric Hamilton, an associate sanitary engineer with the state Department of Environmental Conservation on Thursday, June 16. 

Hamilton said coal tar was a by-product of a coal gasification process used by New York State Electric and Gas Corp. when operating the plant nearby. That plant was demolished several years ago, located where today’s parking lot is next to Damaschke Field. The plant closed in 1953 after about 80 years of operation in producing gas from coal for heating. NYSEG had sold the site to the city in 1966.

The material was found 50 to 60 feet from the plant site, near the millrace that runs into the Susquehanna River. The substance did not move quickly, and posed no effect on water quality as long as it was undisturbed, according to Hamilton.

The plans for the permanent bridge were put on hold, and a temporary crossing was built. It was recommended that the plant and a second building on the site be demolished, but that was still several years away. NYSEG was called upon to pay for the demolition, and later for all coal tar to be removed from the area. It was predicted in November 1991 that the cleanup could span 20 years.

The state and NYSEG agreed in 1994 to clean up the Oneonta site, but the the two wrangled over the details and scope of the cleanup.

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