NORTH RIVER OPTION EXTENDED – AND, AT NO COST

The North River project option runs out tomorrow, December 31, 2007. But the Omni Source land deal is still in the works aided by the benevolence of the owners of the property. OmniSource has decided to extend the option on the land for six months until June 2008 at no additional cost to the city.

In my view, the OmniSource property suffers from two negatives: 1) the potential of toxic and/or hazardous materials lying beneath its surface, and, 2) the location of the property in a floodplain. The Allen County iMAP site shows the property as located in a floodplain and not the actual floodway. While the property is located outside the floodway itself, it falls completely within the floodplain. I would hope that the county’s iMAP is accurate and kept current.

On the issue of toxic or hazardous materials, Deputy Director of Community Development Greg Leatherman has indicated that the city has tested the land for metals and other residue that could be left over from when the land served as a scrap metal yard. However, he has also declined to reveal the results of the study because of confidentiality clauses in the option.

I am assuming the extension of the option contract carries the same terms as the option as originally signed – that would include the confidentiality clauses. This is nothing more than wiggle room for OmniSource and the city to delay releasing the results of the study. And, why would OmniSource need confidentiality clauses in the option if they didn’t think or know toxic materials were present? If the land is “clean”, why would they have to worry about keeping the results from the public?

Leatherman also added, “It’s going to be made public at some point.” The phrase “at some point” is ambiguous and could mean after the purchase if the purchase does, indeed, occur.

Why would OmniSource extend the lease without any additional payment? Two reasons come quickly to mind. First, the property is contaminated and OmniSource knows it, and, second, no one else wants to purchase the property. The city is, apparently, the only one interested in the property.

The public has a right to know “what lies beneath” the surface of the OmniSource property. No “ands, ifs, or buts” about it. The public also has the right to know how the location of the property in a floodplain could impact any materials beneath the surface of the property. Falling back on confidentiality clauses is not an answer the public needs to hear.

And, the public needs to know now before the process continues. If confidentiality clauses are the only roadblock to releasing the study, then the city should have re-negotiated any additional option without the relevant confidentiality clause. The city might have incurred new expenses, but it would certainly be cheaper in the long-run to know upfront the hazardous nature of the property and its potential for flooding before going forward with the purchase.

I supported Harrison Square, and I wholeheartedly support downtown revitalization but not at the potential hazard to the public’s health. Maybe there isn’t anything to the study, but how do we, as the public, know that unless we are allowed to see the study? I get the sense that stonewalling is occurring and that is not good open government.

From the website “NorthRiver Now”
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About Charlotte A. Weybright

I own a home in the historical West Central Neighborhood of Fort Wayne, Indiana. I have four grown sons and nine grandchildren - four grandsons and five granddaughters. I love to work on my home, and I enjoy crafts of all types. But, most of all, I enjoy being involved in political and community issues.
This entry was posted in Economics, Environment, Floods, Fort Wayne City Council, Government, Water Pollution. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to NORTH RIVER OPTION EXTENDED – AND, AT NO COST

  1. Kevin Knuth says:

    Charlotte,

    I have no inside information, but I think it is clear SOME clean up will be necessary.

    Having said that, I defend NOT releasing the study at this time- but I do think it should be public before the land is purchased.

    The problem with releasing the study now is clear- all you will hear are the critics who will kill the proposal if it cost more than a dime to clean up.

    Let the city come up with a plan, a way to pay for it (including any clean up) and determine the project as a WHOLE- not piece by piece.

  2. Kevin:

    I disagree about not releasing the study at this time. You say you think it is “clear” some clean-up will be necessary. If confidentiality clauses were put into the option contract, then OmniSource must have known there would be clean-up, and that means the city went along with that premise. You indicate that yourself by your choice of words.

    Unlike the debate over Harrison Square, this is a matter of public health and safety. Making a statement that the study will be released “at some point” does not instill confidence; it is ambiguous and could mean the study will be released after the property is purchased. I would hate to think that the city intends to do that.

    I don’t think the critics or anyone else will raise issues about clean-up if we, as taxpayers, are not saddled with the bill. If OmniSource polluted the area, then OmniSource should have to clean it up. If some sort of deal is struck which requires us to pay for it through taxes or funding of any kind, I think that is when you will hear the opposition. And, frankly, I agree.

    The other issue that needs to be addressed is the location in the floodplain. I see no discussion anywhere about that issue. The iMAP clearly shows the location in the floodplain, yet no one even mentions that. I believe it has been dismissed as an issue even though statutes prohibit building in a floodplain and within a certain distance from the fringes of a floodplain.

  3. Kevin Knuth says:

    Charlotte,

    IF clean up is necessary- taxpayers WILL pay for it. The question is only if we pay for it in the purchase price, or if we pay for it after getting a reduced price.

    I will also remind you that this is VERY MUCH like Harrison Square- there were a few auto repair shops that were demolished for that project.

    My point is to let the city come up with the ENTIRE package and then we can judge the project as a whole- including cost, cleanup, what new development is proposed, etc. For example (and yes, I am making this up from scratch)-

    IF the city were to purchase the land for $4M and have to spend $2M to clean it up would you support a development that included $10M in private investment to redevelop the area? How about $35M in private investment? Heck, since we are blue skying this thing- how about $110m in private development?

    A reminder, I have NO inside information on this, but releaseing a report now that says SOME clean up will be needed will kill this project before it ever starts. And that would be sad.

  4. Kevin:

    In all the debate about Harrison Square, I do not recall the issue of public health and safety and environmental clean-up coming to the forefront.

    Maybe I missed those items, but can you tell me if those were issues? I attended some of the council meetings that included discussions of the Harrison Square project, and I honestly do not recall mention of environmental clean-up – that is why I am saying Harrison Square is different than North River.

    Hasn’t the purchase price already been set? Does that price include the “built-in” amount for clean-up? If so, then why not release the study? If the city purchases the property and the price already includes the clean-up, then the primary discussion that will occur is whether or not to go forward with the purchase.

    In other situations where environmental clean-up is necessary, it is usually the owner who has to clean the property. I believe that is why many gas stations closed when they were mandated to clean the grounds which were subject to gasoline leakage from underground tanks. They could not afford to expend the sums of money required.

    In real estate transfers – at least in the residential side for certain transactions – sellers sign an affidavit which states that the site was not used for an entity which used hazardous or toxic waste. And, isn’t NIPSCO “voluntarily” cleaning up the property where the Gas House sits?

    You make a good point as to the investment aspect of the transaction. But your point also makes my point. If the investment is there and the city – and, ultimately, taxpayers – will realize a profit and ongoing future investment and activity with the overall plan, then what difference does it make if the study is released and taxpayers are charged the bill? If millions of dollars is the upside, then how can it hurt to release the study?

  5. Kevin Knuth says:

    Charlotte,

    You wrote:

    “Hasn’t the purchase price already been set? Does that price include the “built-in” amount for clean-up? If so, then why not release the study? If the city purchases the property and the price already includes the clean-up, then the primary discussion that will occur is whether or not to go forward with the purchase.”

    My understanding is that the city has the option to buy the land for $4.3M (I think that is what has been reported). The city, being good stewards, are having the soil tested. They could come back to the Omnisource and say “well, looks like it needs $2m in cleanup-so how about we pay you $2.3M?” Or they could require the land to be cleaned up first.

    From Omnisource’s perspective, I would not want the data released if the city were not buying it. It would discourage other possible buyers as well.

    I would assume that the confidentiality clause prohibits releasing that data unless a purchase is agreed to.

    Do not take my comments wrong- the data SHOULD be released BEFORE the property is purchased. I just don’t think it needs to be released at this time.

  6. Kevin:

    I don’t oppose the purchase in and of itself. I just think that the study should be released in enough advance time for the public to get a grasp of what is going on.

    Like you mentioned, it was an industrial site, so the fact that other purchasers would know or suspect the property’s possible contamination would be no secret anyways. I would think other purchasers would also want a study done, so, in that respect, that isn’t a reason to hold back on the study.

    I also still have concerns about the area lying in a floodplain – not the floodway – but the floodplain. I believe state statutes prohibit building in a floodplain or within a certain number of feet of the fringes. No one is even addressing that issue other than to say that there is a levee across the road from the property. But if the artist’s renderings are accurate, that levee would be coming down to allow access to the river.

    Why can’t the area be modeled after Headwaters Park? It could be Headwaters Park north or Headwaters Park extended, maybe with an overhead walkway to Lawton Park.

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