Bowitch Assists As Environmental Counsel to St. Lawrence County in Addressing Contaminated Properties

St. Lawrence County’s upcoming auction of tax-acquired property includes several parcels once contaminated but which have been cleaned up, a house in Canton that the town and village tried unsuccessfully to demolish, and an agricultural educational institute in Lisbon that was taxed before it achieved nonprofit status.

The annual sale, which will take place Oct. 5 at Lockwood Arena in Ogdensburg, may not include all of the parcels listed on the county website,, as delinquent owners have until the day before the auction to pay the back taxes and redeem the real estate.

The listing includes photographs and brief descriptions that often warn potential buyers of pitfalls, including landlocked parcels, and unsafe building conditions, such as a fallen-in roof. Woodland, wetlands, vacant rural land, some waterfront and rental properties are among those available.

The auction includes several properties — typically former gas stations — once considered unsalable because of contamination. They have been cleaned up by the state and are available without the risk of liability for past contamination through an agreement the county has to pay the Oil Spill Fund a nominal amount of money and share a portion of the sale proceeds.

“It’s wonderful progress we’re making with the environmental attorney, Gary S. Bowitch, we have,” County Attorney Michael C. Crowe said.

The county also commissioned an environmental study of the former Alaskan Oil station on Route 68 in the town of Oswegatchie and determined it suitable for sale, Mr. Crowe said.

The sale also includes two parcels that are part of the George W. and Dacie Clements Agricultural Research Institute on Route 37 in the town of Lisbon.

The institute, which recently was determined wholly tax-exempt for educational purposes, was taxed before it achieved nonprofit status, Assessor Stephen E. Teele said.

Annual taxes on the properties, which include several hundred acres, multiple farm buildings, a bed-and-breakfast and a store, amount to more than $20,000.

Institute President Mahlon T. Clements was not available for comment, but he filed an assessment challenge that is pending before County Judge Jerome J. Richards, who will determine whether he has jurisdiction.

The county’s position is that the taxes are due but will be repaid if Mr. Clements wins the case.

A burned-out duplex in Canton is also part of the sale. The house at 3-5 Gouverneur St. went up in flames in 2011 but its former owner is in a downstate nursing home and unable to deal with removal of the building shell. She offered ownership to the town or village, but neither was able to come up with a way to recoup the cost of removal.

The town determined the cost of an asbestos study and debris removal at $25,000.

“We doubted we could get that much for the lot. It just didn’t make sense,” Town Supervisor David T. Button said. “I hope whoever buys it can find a creative solution. We certainly haven’t discovered it yet.”

Also listed as available is a trailer park in the town of Louisville — with 18 mobile homes with no guarantee of title — and the building that contains Hebert’s Steakhouse in the town of Massena.

The sale also includes a vacant one-acre island in the Grasse River in the town of Russell. The county’s description warns that access would have to be researched.

Originally published in the Watertown Daily Times on August 29, 2013 (website link or PDF)

Black Sheep Web Design set this site apart from the flock