Council Concerned Over Reports of Land Contamination from Oklahoma Incinerator

-  by Josh Newtown, April 23, 2014, Tahlequah Daily Press

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"227","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","style":"width: 275px; height: 183px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;"}}]]TAHLEQUAH — Negotiations involving the purchase of nearly 20 homes on 7 acres of land near Basin Avenue hit a snag Monday night when concerns surfaced over potential contamination of the area.

Tahlequah Mayor Jason Nichols had proposed the city purchase the homes and duplexes as a large step in a greenbelt project, which would establish a solid park and trail system from the downtown area to the site of the city’s old solid waste transfer station.

Until Monday, details of the negotiations had been mostly discussed behind closed doors, though Nichols confirmed the list price for the property to be $480,000.

After an executive session Monday night, councilors emerged and announced they had concerns that soil in the area might be contaminated. Councilors then voted unanimously to deny the purchase of the property.

“Of foremost concern is the questionable quality of the soil in the area,” Weston said in an email to the Daily Press. “We were informed [Monday] night that back in the ‘60s, the land where the homes sit now was a dump site from an incinerator. Waste was allegedly burned in an incinerator and then dumped on Basin as landfill. Knowing that young children would likely be exposed to any possible hazards, the councilors want to ensure the safety of our citizens and have the soil tested.”

Weston said the story of the waste being dumped in the area needs to be investigated for both the well-being of any park that might be built there in the future, as well as the citizens who are already living there.

“Before we consider any purchase, we have to make sure soil and water samples are OK,” said Weston.

Weston also has asked for the land to be appraised, and cites the cost of the property as a second concern.

“The property consists of approximately 7 acres and appears to be elevated in price considering the condition of the current structures and the fact that the land itself is limited in use,” said Weston. “We also have to consider purchasing the other five homes in that area, the costs of demolition, remediation of the land itself and eventually building an entire park. We have to be prudent and fully informed before making a decision using taxpayer money.”

Ward 2 Councilor Charles Carroll said the city, sometime in the 1960s and 1970s, operated the incinerator and burned the city’s solid waste at that site.

“So the contents of whatever the ash may have been is unknown, and the contents and who-knows-what were dumped where the houses are now,” said Carroll.

Carroll was told the ashes from the incinerator were once used as fill to reroute the nearby creek.

“Right now, we’re looking at buying it for cosmetic purposes,” said Carroll. “Who knows what was there? I can only say if I was buying a piece of property, I would expect a Realtor to give us a certificate showing the land is clean. I would not want to buy a piece of property and then find out for some unknown reason the city would be stuck with who-knows-what. I’m not saying there’s anything in there, but I’d much rather it be tested and be sure.”

Nichols on Tuesday said he hopes to meet the requests of councilors so the negotiations can continue.

“I’m doing everything I can to get the councilors to take some action on this,” said Nichols. “I contacted the Department of Environmental Quality [Tuesday], and it looks like we’ll have to use a third-party consultant, and it wouldn’t be DEQ doing the soil testing. I think that we’re chasing ghosts with this purchase, doing things we wouldn’t do with other purchases. We don’t have any records that anything was dumped there; we’re just going on the concerns of a councilor, trying to satisfy the concerns that 50-year-old memory has brought up. But I’m aggressively trying to make sure this happens.”

Nichols said he is also working to have the property appraised this week.

“We’ll talk about who’s going to pay for all of this and hopefully get that straightened out later this week,” said Nichols.

Century 21 Wright Real Estate is handling the property listing, Nichols said.

Nichols has previously said the city would demolish the homes and duplexes if purchased.