Earlier this month, City Council President Howard Baughman said 17 acres of land the city wants to purchase are “lightly contaminated.”
But that's not how Ohio EPA Assistant Southeastern District Chief Ken Dewey saw it.
“We don't know how much contamination there is on that property,” he said. “We certainly would be concerned about how the contamination would affect any development on the site.”
According to Dewey, there is at least $560,000 to $1 million worth of cleanup costs on the surface alone where tar was handled.
He called that amount of waste significant and said there is probably a substantial amount of tar waste below the surface, which would add to the cleanup costs.
But Baughman said the figures Dewey mentioned are just estimates.
The city is considering buying the land for $7,500 per acre from the court receivership which it is under.
The city would be responsible for all cleanup costs and liens associated with it. The land has 33 liens against it, although four have been released. Twelve of the liens are for federal taxes.
The city does not know the value of the liens, but solicitor David Kuhn is supposed to know by the Aug. 14 City Council meeting.
City Council is scheduled to give third reading to an ordinance that night to give Mayor Jim Kalb authority to negotiate the purchase. It could table, or postpone, that action though.
The city plans to sell or lease the land to Conley Trucking and build a storage and packaging plant on the site. Conley Trucking has a boat dock on the Ohio River near the site.
Baughman said the reason for the purchase is to bring jobs to the area. He said up to 800 jobs could eventually be created on the land. However, he would not speak on the record about those jobs.
“It's important to take action now,” Baughman said. “We need to determine what needs to be done to attract new development to the site.”
In April 2002, NBCC was shut down after 86 years of converting coal into hotter burning coke for use in the production of steel. About 200 workers lost their jobs when the plant abruptly closed.
Baughman said when he called the 17 acres “lightly contaminated,” he meant they were lightly contaminated compared to other parts of the coke plant.
Dewey said the city has not spoken to his agency about the land.
Baughman, though, said even if the cleanup costs are high, there are state and federal funds available, including Clean Ohio money.
According to Baughman, Conley Trucking performed a Phase 1 study and a partial Phase 2 study this past year. However, Baughman and Dewey both said phase studies are not environmental studies.
Dewey said the Southern Ohio Port Authority is conducting a study of the area to see exactly how much contamination is on the site and how much it will cost to clean it up.
“Once they get a plan and implement it, we will do an additional study so the community will know how badly the land is contaminated,” Dewey said.
He said investigations move slow and this one may take six to 12 months.
Baughman said the purchase will not be made until the total cost of the liens and environmental cleanup is known. However, he said the city is not going to wait until the SOPA study is complete to pass the ordinance, even though Dewey called the study critical.
“We need to act now or watch another brownfield deteriorate,” Baughman said. “But no one is jumping into this if it's not financially feasible.”
He said the city is in competition with other communities on the Ohio River that want to build a similar complex.
Baughman said there is still a chance that Conley Trucking will buy the land without the city getting involved.
But he said the city will not take the property through eminent domain.
Baughman said he didn't think the city would succeed in such an attempt after a Ohio Supreme Court ruling on Wednesday went against the government taking land for private development.
JEFF BARRON can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 236.