News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Opinion

June 7, 2014

EDITORIAL: Cleaner environment will help boost city’s image

Brownfield projects repair damaged sites

TERRE HAUTE — In Terre Haute, the difference is becoming apparent between responsible stewardship of the environment and a look-the-other-way attitude about dumping harmful materials.

The conversion of several “brownfield” sites shows the community’s natural potential. A brownfield is a parcel of land that cannot be used or developed until hazardous substances left on the property get cleaned up. Terre Haute has tackled several brownfield revivals in recent years, including two that made news last week. The actions send a signal. A community once branded with an unpleasant environmental reputation (mostly for its formerly odoriferous air) is changing for the better.

“Even though we have problems, people know we are doing something about them,” said Pat Martin, city planner.

City officials, joined by those from the state, gave a final inspection of the remediated site of the former Terre Haute Coke and Carbon plant on Tuesday. The $7-million project began more than a decade ago, when environmental testing revealed high levels of lead, benzo(a)pyrene, naphthalene, toluene and arsenic — substances used in the production of coke, a solid coal residue. The factory operated for decades and into the 1980s. With the mess left behind, the southeast corner of 13th and Hulman streets sat idle, useless. The city Department of Redevelopment purchased the property in 2004, and the long rehabilitation process began.

Its completion last week meant the site will go on the market and the property can return to the city’s tax rolls.

On Monday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began a cleanup of contaminants on 39 acres of donated land along the Wabash River. Nearly 3,500 tons of soil, tainted by high levels of lead, must be removed before the city can use the acreage to house a floatable control structure for Terre Haute’s stormwater sewer system.

Lead constitutes just one unwanted substance on that stretch of riverbank. Also dumped there were a huge metal tank, several 55-gallon drums, tires, old cars, foundry ash and medical waste. This federal project is funded up to $951,390. When it is finished, the restored grounds will help Terre Haute keep its water system clean and allow the city to fully extend a much-anticipated recreational trail. That pedestrian and biking path along the now-overgrown southernmost stretch of Dresser Drive is intended to wind south of Fairbanks Park toward Interstate 70 for nearly a 1.5 miles. Temporarily, though, the trail can only be constructed to the edge of the 39-acre site, until the cleanup is complete.

A “crown jewel” of the city’s brownfield rehabs, as Martin put it, opened three years ago as Maple Avenue Nature Park. The 25-acre park, with a 12-acre lake, marks Terre Haute’s first new city park since 1948. Years after a frequently flooded nursing home on its site closed in the 1990s, the city acquired the abandoned space and began planning for it. Officials discovered the site, in a previous life prior to the mid-1960s, was an illegal burning landfill. Today, it’s a scenic park with a lake full of fish, including trout, thanks to the city investing just under $200,000 into its revival and another $750,000 from federal, state, university and private contributions.

In each case, years of ecological negligence and irresponsibility — which gave Terre Haute a hard-to-shed reputation — had to be righted to give potentially useful properties new life. The city is doing the admirable, hard work to clean up its environment and, in the process, its image. The results are noticeable.

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