Remnants of buildings left near where a manufactured gas plant once sat are the only reminders of the possible ground contamination around the area. City and WG&L officials are under an order from the EPD to start cleanup efforts at the site by Sept. 1.
Albany, Ga. Albany City Commissioner Bob Langstaff leveled criticism at the Water, Gas & Light Commission Tuesday over its handling of a former gas plant that may end up being a $5 million cleanup project for the city, amping up the discussion of the growing breakdown in communication between the utility and the city.
In a lengthy presentation to the commission, Langstaff explained the connections between the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia's Competitive Trust agreement, which is set to pay out nearly $90 million over 10 years to the city, WG&L and the Longterm Financial Planning Committee.
Langstaff questioned why WG&L, who operates on a $120 million budget but currently has only $6.8 million in reserves, never planned to pay for the cost of cleanup even though they new about the problem decades ago.
Langstaff said WG&L may have botched an insurance settlement for cleanup, arguing that the incident underscores the need for the city manager to have authority over WG&L's general manager.
Langstaff pointed to a federal court decision in 2000 that awarded $14 million in cleanup costs of a gas plant in Connecticut on a 50-year-old insurance policy.
By contrast, WG&L made the decision to settle with its insurance company for $150,000, apparently without board approval or city commission approval.
"They're (WG&L) making critical decisions and expecting us to pay for it," Langstaff said.
The Environmental Protection Division of Georgia is demanding that the WG&L and the city of Albany begin exploratory digging on the site of the utility's former manufactured gas plant off Society Avenue to see how much toxic tar has leached into the ground. The plant was used to provide heat and electricity in the early half of the 20th century.
Last Friday, WG&L asked the joint city-WG&L longterm financial planning committee for $750,000 in MEAG trust funds to jump start the digging process. EPD is demanding that digging start by Sept. 1.
Keith Gooden, WG&L's chief engineer, said that City Attorney Nathan Davis was notified by the EPD of the problem while doing research on Radiator Shop on the East Side of the river as early as 2002.
Davis told the longterm financial planning commission Tuesday that he first learned of the EPD's investigation of the MGP in 2005. Davis was not the city attorney in 2002.
Built in 1912, the plant was decommissioned in 1948 and has sat dormant until most of it was demolished decades later. The site still sits mostly unused except for a few locked buildings.
After his presentation, Langstaff offered a motion to call a special meeting to consider a change to the city's charter that would restructure Water, Gas & Light so that it and the general manager would come under the direct command and control of the Albany City Manager.
That motion failed 4-2 with Langstaff and Postell the only supporters of the motion.
Instead, the commission has given Mayor Hubbard two months to collect information from WG&L regarding the $5 million cleanup of a former gas plant and its operations.