From a landfill, an oasis springs.

Former BASF manufacturing facility becomes education center and wildlife habitat

by yi-ke peng Staff writer
Published 12:55 a.m., Thursday, September 22, 2011

Jim Bero, senior vice president of environment, health and safety for BASF in North America, cuts the ribbon at the dedication of BASF’s new environmetal education center and wildlife habitat in Rensselaer. / AL

Jim Bero, senior vice president of environment, health and safety for BASF in North America, cuts the ribbon at the dedication of BASF’s new environmetal education center and wildlife habitat in Rensselaer.

Near the Port of Rensselaer there now stands a curious site: a wildlife habitat with an environmental education classroom nestled in a bleak industrial zone, separated from the power plant and mounds of scrap metal next door by just a stretch of wire fencing.

The opening of the unlikely oasis Wednesday marks the completion of a more than $20 million project by Germany-based BASF chemical company to transform the site of its former manufacturing facility into a resource for the community.

The 90-acre site now has 10 acres of wildlife habitat with an education center built to meet the highest standards for green building design and 40 acres of land available for redevelopment, with the remaining 40 acres leased to Empire Generating Co., which operates a natural gas power plant on the property.

“They didn’t just do the straight cleanup approach. They went the extra mile,” said Joe Martens, commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which partnered with BASF in the project.

Mayor Dan Dwyer said he believes the education center will be widely used, and the developable property will draw businesses to the area.

“It’s a perfect site to show what could be done with a brownfield,” he said.

When BASF acquired the property in 1978, it had already withstood more than a century of industrial use. Hudson River Aniline and Color Works, which eventually became Bayer Co., first came on site in 1881. The United States government later seized the manufacturing plant for wartime production during both world wars. The company then became GAF Corp. in 1968, which was ultimately replaced by BASF, according to a DEC record. BASF continued to manufacture dye-related products until 2000, when the plant stopped being economically viable.

Not surprisingly, the long history of dumping chemicals onsite resulted in severe ground contamination. In 2002, BASF and DEC signed a voluntary cleanup agreement, and the investigation that followed found chlorinated solvents, chromium and arsenic on the site, according to a DEC document. BASF and DEC have been remediating the site since then, removing and capping contaminated soil and installing a groundwater collection trench that feeds an on-site treatment system.

Today, not only is the site of the former chemical landfill safe to occupy, it has become a place where wildlife can thrive, according to BASF.

“The wildlife habitat is an ecologically enhanced area that promotes growth of indigenous plants to provide foraging and nesting areas for a wide variety of animals; a way station for migratory birds; and a freshwater wetland area for aquatic species, amphibians and reptiles,” a BASF news release said. The company has received Wildlife at Work and Corporate Lands for Learning certifications from the Wildlife Habitat Council for this project.

“The progress has been remarkable,” Martens said. “It is great to see that an industrial landscape like this can have this type of outdoor open space incorporated into the landscape.”

“This is Exhibit A when it comes to showing and demonstrating how the economy and environment are intricately linked. If it weren’t for the wealth created by the private sector, we would not have the high level of environment that we have in New York state,” he added.

The environmental education center, built to meet U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification standards, consists of a classroom and exhibit space for use by local schools. There are possible plans to set up internships for local university students to help run the center, said Douglas Reid-Green, remediation manager for the site and senior environmental specialist of BASF.

“It’s our sincere hope that (the power) plant together with the classroom that we inaugurate today, the wildlife habitat, and also the land we have available for more development will provide a significant educational, recreational and economic opportunity for the people of this area for years to come,” said Jim Bero, senior vice president of environment, health and safety for BASF in North America.

Reach Yi-Ke Peng at 454-5008 or ypeng@timesunion.com.

Read more: http://www.timesunion.com/business/article/From-a-landfill-an-oasis-springs-2182869.php#ixzz1YmdXcf1p

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