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Zion appeals sale of glass plant site in Jeannette

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By Richard Gazarik and Kristie Linden
Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
 

As City Council learned Monday night that the sale of the former Jeannette Glass property will be appealed again, solicitor Scott Avolio encouraged members to begin citing the owner for ongoing property maintenance issues.

“There are property maintenance violations there and I don't see a reason to not begin filing in those matters against the current property owners,” said Avolio. “The fence is down, the stack is leaning, there is hanging metal...the city should enforce its ordinance, which is separate and a part from the (Department of Environmental Protection).”

The attorney for New York businessman Abe Zion, who owns the site, served notice he will appeal a Westmoreland County judge's decision upholding the sale of the former Jeannette Glass plant to the county, according to court records.

Aaron Kress said he will challenge a ruling by Judge Anthony Marsili in Commonwealth Court confirming the sale of Jeannette Glass to the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corp.

City and county officials said the appeal by Zion Bullitt is not unexpected, given Zion's track record of prolonged legal battles.

“It just shows the history of the Zion family,” said city attorney Scott Avolio.

He faulted the state DEP for failing to fully enforce the terms of a consent order reached with Zion to clean up toxins and other hazardous wastes, the residue of years of glass production, on the 13-acre property.

“I hope they don't use the appeal as justification to give them additional time,” Avolio added.

“Believe me, we don't want to prolong it,” said DEP spokesman John Poister.

“We want to see the work done. That's the primary objective.”

Poister said the consent order the state signed with Zion has an escape clause.

“The situation is complicated by the fact that the order says if they cannot gain access to the site for six months or more, the aspects of the consent order would be moot,” he said.

“They're claiming they have not been able to gain access. We're concerned about that right now.”

Avolio told council Monday night that the claim that Zion has been barred from accessing the property is “garbage. It's garbage that they've been restricted from access to the Zion property.

“It's never been restricted. If the DEP was concerned about that allegation with the Jeannette Glass property being restricted, don't you think the DEP should have reached out and call someone in the city?”

If the county decision is allowed to stand, Zion Bullitt would not be responsible for the remainder of the cleanup work, which has been slowed by the company's failure to complete required tasks under the terms of the consent agreement. Zion Bullitt had completed a significant amount of remediation, but work stopped this summer.

Remaining cleanup costs would fall on the county.

Avolio said the Industrial Development Corp. was aware of the potential cleanup work if it acquired the land.

“The county bid with the full knowledge there were environmental issues,” he said.

“The county is prepared to deal with those issues.”

Judge Anthony Marsili ruled last month that the county Tax Claims Bureau properly notified Zion that the property was sold to the county because he failed to pay $171,000 in taxes for a two-year period. The county bid more than $305,000 for the property.

A letter sent to Zion's New York address was signed “Zion” and returned to the county.

Kress, Zion's attorney from New Kensington, said 89-year-old Zion and his son Mark, who now handles his father's business affairs, were in the Virgin Islands at the time the letter was delivered so they couldn't have signed the receipt.

The elder Zion is in poor health, according to his son's testimony at a nonjury trial earlier this summer.

Jeannette has had dealings with Zion since he purchased the former plant for $4 million in 1983.

The relationship has been characterized by years of failed negotiations to get Zion to either reopen the factory, clean up the property or turn over ownership to the city.

When the DEP cited the company for a series of environmental violations in 2011, Zion appealed to the Environmental Hearing Board in a drawn-out legal fight that ended earlier this year when the company dropped its appeal and signed the consent order.

Avolio said Jason Rigone, executive director of the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corporation, would like to meet with council this month to discuss this ongoing litigation because the city is a party to the court case.

Avolio said parts of Rigone's discussion with council may be held in public as it could address future development in the city as well.

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or rgazarik@tribweb.com.

Kristie Linden is an editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at klinden@tribweb.com or 724-838-5154.

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