LACKAWANNA, NY - "This is horrific," said Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey M. Szymanski as he inspected the ruins of the former Bethlehem Steel cold strip mill, which was at the epicenter of a devastating general alarm fire which broke out on November 9.
“I just can't believe my eyes …these buildings were the reason we became a city," said Szymanski. “You would have thought these buildings would last forever. Now look at it."
Owned by Great Lakes Industrial Development, the massive facility which it purchased for $3.5 million six years ago was home to several businesses in its current configuration as the Steel Works Industrial Park.
However, by no stretch of the imagination, one could easily envision what remains of it as a suitable setting for a war movie.
"I grew up maybe three blocks from here,” noted Szymanski. “To see it the way it is now…It's really sad."
Mayor Szymanski’s sense of loss was exceeded perhaps only by his sense of gratitude, which he expressed to fellow Mayor Byron Brown of Buffalo, whose city sent manpower and equipment to help fight the fire and investigate its cause.
“Everything about them has been fantastic, and I just want to say thank you so much,” Szymanski told Brown during a tour of the site on Monday morning.
“You’re welcome, Mayor,” was Brown’s reply.
The tour was held just hours before Szymanski officially lifted the state of emergency declared after the fire, which meant – among other things—that as of 4pm Monday, control of the property reverted back to its owner.
In the meantime, costs for the response to the fire are adding up quickly for the cash strapped Steel City.
"Right now we have about a half-million dollars in emergency demolition costs and $100,000 in overtime costs," said Szymanski.
In addition, there will be ongoing costs for monitoring the health of both first responders to the fire, and those who worked to mop up in its aftermath.
“So right now we're over $600,000 and for a city our size (population 18,141) that's substantial," Szymanski said.
Also substantial have been the costs incurred by the City of Buffalo.
“We are in the tens of thousands of dollars that have been calculated already for the mutual aid that the city of Buffalo has provided, said Brown.
However, according to Brown, that won’t be an additional cost to be borne by Lackawanna.
“We don't anticipate sending the city of Lackawanna a bill,” Brown said.
Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield added that charging Lackawanna for costs incurred by Buffalo would violate both the letter and the spirit of an existing mutual aid agreement.
“It’s an agreement we all signed on to participate in and to support each other,” said Whitfield. “That's what occurred this time. Certainly if there's an opportunity to get reimbursement through another entity, that's something we'll all be looking at."
State elected officials on hand for the tour vowed to keep working to get whatever assistance they can from Albany.
In other developments, Whitfield said fire investigators are close to determining a cause for the blaze, but declined to say when that information might be released.
Szymanski also revealed that NYS Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul was among those who sustained a loss from the fire as, according to Szymanski, she shared with him that her jet ski was stored in the facility and was destroyed.