VACCO ACTS TO AVOID ENVIRONMENTAL EMERGENCY

YANCEY ROY Staff writer
Section: CAPITAL REGION,  Page: B10

Date: Friday, March 29, 1996

ALBANY -- The state attorney general secured a court order Thursday that he said prevents the potential release of ammonia gas over downtown.


A bankruptcy court judge, at Dennis Vacco's request, ordered electrical power to remain on at the Central Warehouse, an 11-story landmark easily visible to thousands of commuters from Interstate 787. The warehouse's owners, currently going through bankruptcy court proceedings, were being pressed to cease all operations Thursday, the company's attorney said. Vacco said he entered the case because closing down the roughly 70-year-old, 400,000-square-foot facility could cause an environmental disaster. He said the building contains an old refrigeration system containing thousands of pounds of ammonia gas, along with layers of 18-inch-thick ice on several upper floors.


Shutting off the power could cause the temperature to rise, the gas to expand and, possibly, valves to burst, releasing ammonia into Albany's air, Vacco said.


``We think the (risk) is very substantial,'' Vacco said, standing on Colonie Street in front of the building.


The state Department of Environmental Conservation inspected the facility on March 4, recommending the refrigeration system be purged of ammonia before being turned off. A DEC air specialist said the system, built in 1927, had experienced numerous minor leaks in the past.


Federal Bankruptcy Judge Robert Littlefield ordered C.W. Associates to keep the electricity on pending a hearing next Thursday. At that time, the judge said the company should have a plan for removing the ammonia. A lawyer for the company said CW Associates had already begun to solicit bids for the job.


CW Associates is a partnership headed by Mary Ann McGinn, David Smith and Brian Shea, according to information released by Vacco's office. Their attorney, Richard Weisz, said he was somewhat surprised by Vacco's action because the company never intended to turn the power off -- however, the mortgage holder, TrustCo Bank, was pushing for a shutdown.


William Terry, a TrustCo senior vice president, said bank officials were upset that the building will not be closing this week but that they accept the judge's decision.