News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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December 11, 2012

READERS’ FORUM: Dec. 11, 2012

More info on brownfield site

I was surprised at the feedback I received from my Dec. 1 letter, “How did site get into this shape?” Both friends and people I did not personally know expressed their interest in the letter, thus further renewing the local debate about this brownfield site. I also received some Tribune-Star background information from 1962, 1993, 2001 and 2002.

A June 24, 1962, article, “Industry On Parade, The Gas & Chemical Corp.,” provided background information about this facility. It was founded in 1915, produced coke seven days every week, 24-hours every day. There were some 136 full-time employees, and the annual payroll was approximately $800,000.

A May 19, 1993, article by Howard Greninger noted that 50 to 60 percent of the demolition and dismantling of equipment at the plant had been completed. Following the demolition and dismantling, an environmental cleanup would then be concluded. According to this article, the Indiana Gas & Chemical Corp. sold this plant to Terre Haute Coke & Carbon for $1 million. Interestingly, Terre Haute Coke & Carbon “failed to make payment” for the plant, and Indiana Gas & Chemical filed a foreclosure of the mortgage in May 1992.

A cleanup began in January 1993 per a court decision by Vigo Court Superior Judge Michael Eldred. This action was taken to “prevent possible fines from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).” According to this article, “the more fines, the less money could be salvaged for the creditors.” It appears that ensuring recovery of money for creditors trumped paying fines for creating an environmental disaster. This article further stated that Terre Haute Coke & Carbon was fined $155,168 in 1991 by the city of Terre Haute for violating wastewater discharge at our treatment facility.

At this point there was a court order to remove any potential hazardous material, dismantle and remove equipment and clean and grade the site. The salvage from the site could also be used to help pay creditors.

A July 12, 2001, article further emphasized contamination of the property and that at that time, it was “too early to know what would have to be done to clean up the property or what it might cost.” Options included removing contaminated soil or pouring a concrete slab over the affected area. This article noted that two of the three sections of the property were now under the control of the Vigo County commissioners. This was the result of nonpayment of approximately $400,000 of back taxes. The contamination and cleanup costs passed from the company to the Vigo County taxpayers.

The final article I obtained was from April 3, 2002, also by Howard Greninger. According to Mr. Greninger, “a state grant will fund a third round of soil tests” at the site. Some county officials believed that this area could be a future industrial park, depending on the cleanup costs. At this time, Vigo County Commissioner Judith Anderson stated, “At first, I thought here is a money pit that we are going to have to clean up to make usable to the community again. So far, it has not turned out that way.” It appears that in 2002, city and county officials optimistically believed that the rehabilitation of the property would be cost-effective and provide what all elected officials dream of: jobs and tax income.

We are now at an interesting crossroad. The taxpayers own the property and the accompanying problems. No one knows the actual extent of the contamination. One caller informed me that the original site extended to Washington Street. This creates a new issue regarding the land north of Hulman Street, to include the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), apartment and home properties. Has any soil testing been performed beyond the existing vacant site, to include this area?

It was surprising to receive the aforementioned feedback and new information within two days of my published letter. This is not a finger-pointing exercise. It appears that through legal means, the taxpayers now own an environmental nightmare. Whether it can be successfully rehabilitated is questionable. We are not even sure that if it is salvaged, that this property will become an industrial or retail magnet. Maybe, it would be best to make it an urban prairie to serve as a reminder of how we need to treat our environment.

— Gary S. Izo

Terre Haute


 

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