Cleanup of the former Jeannette Glass Co. site is finally under way, but the ownership of the site is embroiled in litigation.
The site was sold to the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corp. in September for the $304,000 the county says the current owners, Zion Bullitt Limited Partnership, owe in back taxes.
The development group was the only bidder at the tax sale, which has to be cleared by a judge before the title for the 13.5-acre site on Bullitt Avenue is transferred, according to Jeannette solicitor Scott Avolio.
Zion Bullitt in October filed an objection to strike the sale of that property and two other Zion Bullitt-owned sites -- one in Jeannette and one in Penn Borough. Aaron Kress, a lawyer for Zion Bullitt, said the partnership intends to pay the back taxes. Mr. Kress also is representing Zion Bullitt in a lawsuit filed against Westmoreland County, challenging the assessed value of the site.
Mr. Kress said that assessed value -- $542,220 -- is "outrageous."
Mr. Avolio disagreed, and the county's Board of Assessment Appeals sided with the city. Zion Bullitt filed a lawsuit against the county in November.
In the meantime, cleanup has begun at the former glass company, which has been shuttered since 1983. The state Department of Environmental Protection ordered Zion Bullitt to clean up the site in January 2011, citing violations of the Solid Waste Management Act, the Clean Streams Law, the Storage Tanks Act and the Air Pollution Control Act.
In 2004, the DEP was denied access to the site. Later in 2004, DEP officials sampled soil on the perimeter of the site and between the site and a proposed residential redevelopment. They found elevated levels of arsenic. A DEP inspector was again denied access to the site in June 2010, but noted asbestos-containing materials on one of the buildings.
In October 2010, a search warrant was procured and DEP officials investigated and took samples. They found elevated levels of arsenic, barium, lead, cadmium, selenium, toluene, acetone, benzene and asbestos, among other substances.
Frank Trigona, a local businessman, is managing the cleanup on behalf of Zion Bullitt. He said he has been managing asbestos remediation and "things that the DEP wanted [to be] handled."
DEP spokesman John Poister said cleanup has been slow, but views the recent progress as positive.
"It has been a very long process," he said.
Mr. Poister said contaminated soil, water and concrete still exist on the site and need to be recycled or properly disposed of.
"It's a laundry list of things that have collected there," he said.
The DEP imposed a deadline of March 31 for Zion Bullitt to complete the cleanup.
Mr. Trigona said the cleanup involves "nothing earth-shattering" and hopes to finish cleanup and demolition of buildings by June.
Jason Rigone, executive director of the development corporation, said that if the sale goes through, the corporation will ensure the site is cleaned and address environmental issues before readying it for redevelopment.
Mr. Avolio said the city doesn't want the site to be detrimental to the health of Jeannette residents. Ultimately, Jeannette would like to see development -- industrial or otherwise -- to bring jobs and a boost to the tax base.
"Cleanup is primary, and future development is secondary," he said.neigh_east - neigh_westmoreland
Annie Siebert: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1613. Twitter: @AnnieSiebert.