(Albany, NY) Senator Dale M. Volker (R-I-C, Depew) today announced that the New York State Senate passed legislation (S.884) that would allow municipalities (taxing districts) to commence an action for foreclosure on abandoned or tax delinquent sites and conduct environmental investigations on these properties without exposing them to environmental liability claims. The bill was unanimously passed by the State Senate (59-0).
"The issue of Brownfield redevelopment is key to putting many of these sites back on the tax rolls and cleaning up blighted areas in many regions of our state. This in turn improves the ability of local governments to identify and react to properties that can be saved and reused without local government assuming environmental liability which could stymie this redevelopment and revitalization." said Senator Dale M. Volker. "We in Western New York know that we have our share of Brownfields. For years municipalities were hesitant to approach these Brownfields due to liability exposure and the costs associated with their clean up. This legislation would address both concerns and I firmly believe that this legislation could make a major impact to our communities and expand our tax base."
Under Senator Volker’s legislation, municipalities would be eligible for funding under the Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act for 75% of the cost of such investigation. If the investigation revealed a condition on the site that would expose the municipality to a liability beyond what the municipality could afford, the municipality could withdraw the property from the foreclosure action and turn the task of cleaning the property over to the State superfund or federal superfund for clean up. Additionally, if more than one taxing district seeks the right to do such investigation the court must decide which one will best suit the needs of the public in general - where possible preference is to be given to villages and cities over towns and counties and towns over counties.
Many municipalities have properties located within their taxing districts that are abandoned or are lying fallow and are delinquent in their tax payments. Because these properties are, or may be contaminated, the taxing districts are wary of foreclosing on the properties and then being held liable for the clean up costs. In fact, many of these properties are only marginally contaminated and may well be able to be put back on the tax roles, but the fear of the unknown prevents this. In addition, Environmental Conservation Law which implements the Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act requires that the municipality be the owner of the property to be eligible for funding for the environmental investigation of these properties. This would accomplish this without exposing the municipality to unwarranted and expensive liability for environmental damages caused by others.