Lynn eyes taking land from GE by eminent domain — The (Lynn MA) Daily Item, 10/28/04

By David Liscio

City Council President James Cowdell is resurrecting his fight to take industrially contaminated land owned by GE in West Lynn by eminent domain, intending to use the sprawling acreage as an economic development site rather than allow it to remain an asphalt lot surrounded by homes.

Cowdell this week lashed out at GE for what he calls its corporate policy of stalling to avoid a costly environmental cleanup.

"Their tactic is to stall and wait for me to go away, but I'm not going away," he said. "GE does not take care of their properties. I have pictures that show weeds and asphalt and chainlink fencing as their legacy in Lynn."

According to Cowdell, the time has come "to put GE's feet to the fire." The city councilor Tuesday found plenty of support among his colleagues who agreed to vote on a possible eminent domain taking in two weeks.

"GE would be very happy looking at asphalt for the next 50 years, especially on Federal Street," said Cowdell, referring to a paved-over industrial site once home to aerospace instrumentation manufacturing, the ground beneath it contaminated by solvents and other substances.

"Delay. Delay. Delay. Don't spend a nickel in Lynn if you don't have to. That's how they think at GE," he said. "I've tried for two years to negotiate, to work with them, but now I'm convinced they aren't negotiating in good faith. I'm done. They're not even attending the meetings of the task force that was set up to move this process along."

Under Cowdell's plan, the Lynn Economic Development and Industrial Corp. (EDIC) would assume ownership of both lots on Federal Street as a result of the eminent domain taking and develop a re-use plan.

"The land is contaminated and GE should clean it up, considering the company has a budget that's more than most countries in this world. If they won't, we'll do it and send them the bill," he said. "If you stick a shovel into the dirt down there, it'll glow in the dark."

Richard Gorham, a spokesman for GE in Lynn, disputed Cowdell's suggestion that the company is not participating in negotiations or attending the task force meetings. "We've attended just about all, if not all of those meetings," he said, noting that John Craynon, the company's environmental projects manager, has been a key member of the task force.

"What (Cowdell) is saying is very misleading," Gorham said. "The task force was initiated by the city and the mayor's office and it has made tangible inroads. We have reopened Federal Street and more recently completed the sale of lots of Center Street, where housing is planned."

Gorham said GE invested money to environmentally clean the Center Street property, bringing it up to residential standards. "We made it clean enough to build houses on," he said.

GE also worked out an arrangement with the River Works Credit Union, leasing it land for additional customer and employee parking in West Lynn. "We even paved the lot for them," he said.

GE recently sold property on Cooper Street to a private investor who plans to construct a storage warehouse, according to Gorham.

As for GE property abutting Federal Street, Gorham said the company has received several proposals for development, including one from a limousine firm that nearly reached fruition.

"Lots of folks were frustrated when that deal fell through because it was almost finalized," he said, explaining that most proposals relate to the company's defunct Factory of the Future building on Western Avenue, once touted as a model flexible machining center.

"We've moved on from the limo deal and we're currently looking at other options for that property," Gorham said. "We want to find the best use and we're not lying dormant in our approach to it."

Unlike Cowdell, the GE spokesman said the contaminated land has value. "Based on some of the offers we've had for the Factory of the Future building and the lot beside it, I can tell you the property has value," he said. "Value is one of the things that has to be assessed in any eminent domain taking, and it takes time to go through that legal cycle. But at some point, value would be determined."

Meanwhile, GE continues to pump the groundwater beneath the Federal Street property though a series of filters as part of its ongoing environmental cleanup. And residential neighbors continue to monitor their basements for signs of solvent vapor.

"We plan to continue the task force meetings," said Gorham." We think they have been productive."

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