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The TCI Fire: Two Years After

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As we approach the two-year anniversary of the TCI fire in West Ghent in Columbia County, we look back at the disaster and at TCI's plans going forward.

The fire broke out around 10 p.m. on August 1st, 2012 at TCI of New York on Route 9H in West Ghent. According to Columbia County officials, the building housed mineral oil tanks, tractor trailers containing fuel oil, propane tanks, and other hazardous substances, including sodium that came from transformers disposed of at TCI. The company blamed the inferno on "a third party vendor" that TCI no longer deals with.

Columbia County's office of emergency management director Bill Black said at the time that in his 30 years of fire experience, he'd never witnessed a blaze as intense as the one at TCI. "We've had the area - the soot - or the residue from the soot - sampled, and the materials came back non-detectable for PCBs"

It WAS a close call. A day after the disaster, State Health Department Commissioner for Public Health Dr. Gus Birkhead said any PCBs that may have been present burned up in the fire.   "The health impact was probably mitigated by advising folks to stay indoors, turn off their air conditioners and keep windows closed. That's all now relaxed, and so I think we can get back to normal, normal life."

Two years on, life IS back to normal in Ghent.  The fire took its toll on both the town and on PCB-processor TCI. Tension between the two sides boiled over, and TCI ended up filing a lawsuit against the town for blocking its effort to rebuild, forcing TCI to look for a new home outside Columbia County.

TCI Spokesman Jon Cohen:    "We have chosen not to rebuild in Ghent. We dropped our litigation. We withdrew our rebuild permit. We're very pleased to have resolved that matter with the town of Ghent. We thank the town leadership for working with us to resolve our differences in an amicable way. We regret that we're not bringing new jobs and a new facility and a new tax resource to the town of Ghent but we are very proud and very happy to be in Coeymans."

TCI's new $7 million headquarters and transformer processing facility on Riverview Drive is scheduled to open in the fall. The company has been working out of a temporary location at the Port of Coeymans.  TCI no longer processes PCB oil locally. It is drained and shipped out of state.  Cohen notes that the new Coeymans plant is totally high-tech. It has no smokestacks, there's nothing to discharge into or contaminate local air, water or soil. And safety trumps all.   "We're installing a military-grade state-of-the-art fire suppression system that we've bought from Canada. It's the very finest fire suppression technology that money can buy. It far exceeds what fire codes and local and state law requires of us, but it establishes a new standard of fire safety," said Cohen.

Town officials in Coeymans and Ghent could not be reached for comment.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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