Remnants of a wall on the site of what formerly was a radiator shop are all that remain at the location where city officials say state environmental authorities are demanding additional testing that will cost up to $200,000.
ALBANY, Ga. — The Radiator Shop, the city-owned site on the East side of the Flint River that already has cost more than $916,000 to clean up, will have to undergo another round of cleaning after state officials said contaminants were found in soil and water samples from the area.
Mayor Pro-Tem Bob Langstaff, commissioner for Ward V and the lone vote against acquiring the property 10 years ago, called the radiator shop site “the gift that keeps on giving,” referring to the fact that the site was essentially gifted to the city by its owners.
Despite the fact that the city followed guidelines set by the state’s Environmental Protection Division and spent more than $916,000 removing lead and other contaminants from the site, city officials said Tuesday that recent samples obtained from the site prompted a new mandate from the EPD.
To avoid fines from the state, the city will move ahead with a new round of cleanup efforts that will cost somewhere between $150,000 and $200,000.
“The bottom line is that we’ve done a fair amount of lead cleanup at the site, but after the most recent testing was done, the EPD reviewed the results and is requesting additional information about the site to determine if further testing is necessary,” Assistant City Manager Wes Smith said. “It’s just been a very bad decision that has continued to haunt the city.”
Albany Mayor Dorothy Hubbard said that while she doesn’t necessarily hold the decision to accept the property against former city commissioners, that single decision is having repercussions a decade later.
“I don’t want to be critical of them,” Hubbard said. “I always try and look at the data and the documentation that I have before making a decision, and I think they were making a decision they thought was a good one based on the information they had at the time.
“I’m disturbed that we have to spend the taxpayer’s money, but we don’t have much of a choice at this point.”
Langstaff, one of the few sitting on the commission today who was a commissioner when the city acquired the property, said that he voted against the acquisition because he had been told that there were massive environmental issues associated with the site. His warnings to the commission went unheeded, he said.
At the time, those pushing the city to purchase the site assured the City Commission that no more than $10,000 would be needed to clean up the site, and that if it cost more than that, the owners were prepared to cover cleanup up to $100,000, Langstaff said.
Langstaff said that the provisions in that contract had no teeth, however, so when the city was faced with a massive cleanup, there was little the city could other than to undertake the cleanup itself. The former owners haven’t “paid a dime” in cleanup costs since the city took ownership, Langstaff said.
Moreover, there was speculation that by “gifting” the property to the city, the former owners made off with a tax break worth several hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Former Albany Mayor Tommy Coleman, who was presiding over the commission at the time, said that the board knew that it was going to take a lot of effort to clean up the site. He disputed Langstaff’s contention that anyone thought it was going to be done as cheaply as $10,000.
“My recollection is that that figure was pretty low,” Coleman said. “We all knew that cleaning that property up was going to be something that would be pretty extensive. They had been working on cars there since 1932.”
Coleman said that the decision the commission made to obtain the radiator shop site was made in the interest of developing downtown and following the master redevelopment plan. Now abandoned, that plan called for redevelopment of downtown on both the east and west sides of the river.
“If you bought into the idea of downtown redevelopment on the west and east side of the river, then that radiator shop had to be cleaned up,” Coleman said. “It wasn’t a mistake. You’re going to have some people saying that it was a mistake, and there were people knew that it needed to be corrected, but if we were going to develop both sides of the river, we had to do something with that property.”
According to the official records of the city of Albany, the commission voted 5-1 on Sept. 24, 2002, to acquire the property. Coleman, Mayor Pro Tem and Ward II Commissioner Henry Mathis, Ward I Commissioner Jon Howard, Ward IV Commissioner Bo Dorough and Ward VI Commissioner David Williams voted in support of the move. Langstaff voted against it and Ward III Commissioner Arthur Williams was absent from the meeting.