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.