The State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), St. Lawrence County, and the Development Authority of the North Country (DANC) have announced a public meeting has been set for Friday, July 20, 2018, to provide the public with a comprehensive presentation of cleanup efforts at the former Jones and Laughlin (J&L) Steel Company site (Benson Mines) at Star Lake.
The Magnetic Iron Company began developing the area on top of what they believed would be a valuable ore body in the late 1880s. The Benson Mines Company started open pit mining operations at the site and produced magnetite and non-magnetite ore intermittently until the mine closed from 1919 to 1941.
In 1941 Jones and Laughlin Ore Co. leased the site, and a processing plant was built by the Defense Plant Corporation (created by Congress in the 1940s to expand the United States production capabilities for military equipment). Following the Second World War, the plant was sold to J&L Steel who took advantage of the government investments to expand its mining and ore processing facilities. In the 1950s, the site (still referred to as Benson Mines) was the largest open pit magnetite mine in the world and employed up to 1,000 people. By the 1970s the plant and mining operations diminished and the plant ultimately closed in 1978.
In 1988, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) was notified that an oil spill was discovered in the Little River a tributary to the Oswegatchie River which leads to the St. Lawrence Seaway, adjacent to the Benson Mine. The NYSDEC traced the spill back to the iron-ore processing facility.
Of the more than one million gallons of #2 Fuel Oil on the site, about 350,000 gallons have been recovered since 1988. A 1,000’ long, 15’ deep polyvinyl curtain separates the contamination area from the Little River. The curtain however, is no longer holding back the plume and oil again is seeping into the river. The site was referred to the Environmental Protection Agency in late 2013 and cleanup is now underway funded by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990/Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.
DEC, EPA, St. Lawrence County and DANC have been working together to remove asbestos, PCB and other contamination, and to demolish and remove the buildings. Areas of the site designated clear of hazardous waste contamination have been transferred to St. Lawrence County for redevelopment.
The Jones & Laughlin Site is located at the crossroads of Route 3 and County Route 60 in Clifton, St. Lawrence County, (coordinates 44.168334°, -74.994359°).
The meeting will take place from 1 to 4 pm at the Clifton – Fine Central High School auditorium, 11 Hall Ave, Star Lake.
The public is invited to participate in a site tour following the presentation. Tour seating is limited. To reserve a spot email information.R6@dec.ny.gov or call (315) 785-2513.