News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 27, 2013

822 new acres add options for Vigo park developments

Howard Greninger
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — A dog park and recreational trails are among the first items being planned as part of an 822-acre acquisition from Pfizer Inc. to expand land managed by the Vigo County Parks and Recreation Department.

The Parks and Recreation Board Tuesday approved an agreement to buy the property for $50,000, paid from grants from the Wabash Valley Community Foundation and the Vigo County Redevelopment Commission.

The land is located north of Dallas Road and stretches in a narrow rectangle between Dallas and Eaton Drive on the north, between Carlisle on the east and west to Cullen Road. A second, unconnected portion, containing about 113 acres, is southeast of the property off of Trueblood Place.

Parks Superintendent Kara Kish said the department will take about a year to plan and develop the property for public use. Initially, the park department is planning a dog park  of 14 to 16 acres, with half of that land open six months at a time. That allows each side to regenerate, Kish said.

“There are no adequate facilities in Terre Haute for the canine-ownership community,” Kish said.

The site will be a pay-for-use facility, Kish said, either with an annual fee or per-use charge. The park is being modeled on Eagle Creek Dog Park in Indianapolis, Kish said. In addition, a small walking trail is planned within the dog area to allow pet owners to walk as their dogs run. Another concept under consideration is a zip line facility, Kish said.

The eastern edge of the property, which contains about 64 acres near Ivy Tech Community College, has no environmental concerns, so some moderate construction can be done, she said.

Kish said walking trails will be connected to the Vigo County Industrial Park, which will allow employees of businesses in the park to utilize the public trails. The land also provides a buffer zone between the residential area of the Garden Quarter apartments and the industrial park.

The western end of the park will be used for fishing and hunting, which will be done using a draw system for hunters. That section of the park will be closed during the hunts, Kish said. Other ideas for the western portion include horse trails and disc golf course.

Vigo County park officials plan to keep a buffer zone around Jordan Creek undeveloped. The area divides the main section of land in half.

The county parks department paid $9,500 for an independent Phase 1 study from the Corradino Group before voting to proceed with a purchase from Pfizer. The site has been cleared by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, except for land around the creek that contains monitoring wells that Pfizer will continue to study for two to three years as part of a state remediation plan that follows a 2008 flood.

A soil levee on Pfizer’s property was breached during the June 7, 2008, flood, which was the worst in 95 years in the county. An estimated 300 million gallons of floodwater from a 900-acre watershed surged into a 3-acre containment pond, which contained about one million gallons of water.

The floodwaters overwhelmed the pond, sending PCB-laden soil downstream into Jordan Creek. A cleanup was required by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In 2009, Pfizer completed a 14-month cleanup project that required 70,000 cubic yards of sediment and soil to be removed along 2.79 miles of Jordan Creek. The project removed soil containing polychlorinated biphenyl, or PCBs, from Jordan Creek and its overbank area.

It also included the replacement of 40,000 tons of topsoil and cleared and reseeded a 50-acre area. The project also included planting 4,000 replacement trees.

Pfizer spokesman Christopher Loder said caps were installed in defined areas of the site as part of the cleanup plans approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and IDEM. The caps, consisting of clay and top soil and averaging about 2 feet in thickness, are designed to prevent direct contact with certain subsurface materials as part of the approved remediation completed at the site.

“We are delighted that this beautiful piece of property will be preserved for generations to come to enjoy and as a natural home wildlife in the area,” Loder said. “We believe that Vigo County will be good stewards of the land.

“We consider environmental sustainability to be an intregal part of our mission and our larger purpose, and I think that is something we take very seriously,” Loder said.

Pfizer began pharmaceutical operations in Vigo County in 1947 when it leased facilities from the U.S. Army before purchasing the property in 1958. Pfizer ceased operations at its facility adjacent to the Vigo County Industrial Park in 2010 after producing a variety of medicines for more than six decades, including the polio vaccine and antibiotics.

W. Keith Ruble, the former county parks superintendent, played a key role in the acquisition of the property. Ruble, working as Helms & Ruble Forestry, had been a forestry consultant for Pfizer for about five years before Pfizer shut down its Vigo County operations.

Ruble had encouraged Pfizer to preserve the land, which led to Pfizer placing 650 acres of the land in the state’s Classified Forest and Wildland Program.

“We planted about 65,000 scrubs and trees in the 650 acres and planted about 120 acres of prairie grass, some of which was south of Dallas Road and was later removed for farming when the county bought some land from Pfizer” for a second industrial park area, Ruble said.

Much of the capped area lies to the far western edge of the land, Ruble said.

After Pfizer’s withdrawal from the county, Ruble said he encouraged Pfizer officials to place the land into the county’s possession as a park.

“This is something I have been working on behind the scenes for about two years and had hoped to finish before I retired. This may be the last big land purchase for the county, but I feel this will be a tremendous asset for the future, as it protects this land,” Ruble said.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.