Sales tax $ for lead cleanup - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Sales tax $ for lead cleanup

 June 14, 2006

Albany -- City leaders plan to use nearly $1 million in sales tax money to clean up lead contamination on property where a radiator shop once stood.  

But state law is clear when it comes to the use of sales tax money. It can only be used for projects listed on the referendum voters passed.

The city attorney says the contaminated site, just east of the Flint River on Broad Avenue, was part of the 1996 Riverfront Park Master Plan, and therefore the money can be used for the clean-up process.    

Dangerous levels of lead were found on the city property, the former site of a radiator shop. The EPD ordered the City clean it up by February 15th.

Tuesday, city commissioners agreed to spend more than $750,000 in sales tax money to decontaminate the property. City attorney Nathan Davis says that's a legal use of sales tax since this referendum, voters passed last year, included a vague reference to "park improvements."

And the land is part of future park plans.  "If you check the City records way back in 1996, the park development was proposed on both sides of the river to include what you see now and the other side. So it is a park project," said Davis.

But the costly clean-up is an expense city commissioners didn't expect taxpayers would have to bear. Davis says since city commissioners agreed to assume ownership of the property in 2002 and to pay for environmental clean-up, the former owner --a Florida company-- is completely off the hook.

Now, the City must start decontaminating the site. City engineer Bob Alexander said that's a tedious process since the lead is six feet underground.  "We'll actually pick up contaminated dirt and haul it off and put some additional dirt in there."

Then, more environmental tests must be done to make sure all of lead is gone. For now, only a torn fence surrounds the potentially dangerous site.

Alfred Lott City Manager Alfred Lott says the biggest concern is finding more contamination once clean up begins, which would up the already hefty price tag of the process. "We will take a look at the property and make sure the fence is secure enough so we don't have anybody getting in there and getting in any trouble or potentially contaminating themselves."  

Commissioners said they agreed to take ownership of the property even though it was contaminated because they wanted to clean up the eyesore.

Commissioner Bo Dorough said the former city attorney said the company signed a contract to pay for any clean up in excess of $100,000. But that contract was never actually signed.

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