1/01/2008

Apollo May Seize B&W Property


By Mary Ann Thomas

Frustrated by unsuccessful attempts to secure the former Babcock & Wilcox site along Warren Avenue, [Apollo PA] borough council wants to take the property by eminent domain.

According to council President John Ameno, the borough needs the 4.6-acre parcel for parking and green space situated, ideally, next to some light industry and a river trail. Council is expected to discuss the eminent domain issue during its next regular meeting.

"We contacted B&W several years ago, and they didn't show a whole lot of interest to donate the property at that time," Ameno said. "We asked them again and didn't really get a response. Our position now is to get the property."

The B&W site was home to the nuclear fuel manufacturing operations of the Nuclear Material and Equipment Service in 1957. The company continued under its successors, the Atlantic Richfield Co. and B&W, with operations ceasing in 1983. The buildings were demolished and thousands of tons of radioactive debris and soil were removed. The cleanup was completed in 1995.

Although the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission designated the site as suitable for unrestricted use, the B&W land, surrounded by a green fence, has remained dormant. The borough's tax base has withered ever since, according to Ameno, who estimated that the town has lost potential tax dollars of about $300,000 since the B&W facilities were demolished.

Ameno and others are looking for ways to raise revenue.

"There's no place to go or to grow the tax base," he said. So the town has embarked on an ambitious redevelopment plan that includes the use of the B&W land and an adjacent parcel, the 14-acre Metal Services property, which was contaminated by uranium dust from NUMEC.

According to Ameno, lead contamination in the Metal Service's soil is the primary concern and the borough plans to complete cleanup of the site with grant money.

"That combined 20 acres is substantial for a town that is less than a square mile in size" Ameno said.

"The land has been deemed clean, I'm tired of the black cloud painted on our town," said Councilwoman Debra Schrecongost. "It's time to move on. We're among the poorest communities in Armstrong County and we're landlocked. We have to have that property to do anything here."

Although the town needs to boost its tax base, Leechburg environmental activist Patty Ameno and the council president's sister, doesn't want the borough to touch the B&W property.

"I would strongly recommend that a governing body not pursue that reckless path because of the potential for overwhelming and surmounting legal costs to the borough and for the future liability and health and safety for generations to come," Patty Ameno said.

According to borough solicitor Allan Opsitnick, the environmental liability of the B&W site is an issue.

"I'm unsure as to the borough's legal exposure," he said. "The borough knows already that there are some restrictions on use of the property and our plan is to use it for green space or a parking lot - there's no structure planned for the property."

During a property tax appeal case in Armstrong County in early 2004, according to Opsitnick, "the sticking point was that B&W has no need for the property, they wanted a restriction that there would be no excavation." B&W and the court concurred that the property was without value but the company agreed to pay about $130 a year. B&W representatives did not return calls for comment.

Because the borough intends not to dig on the site, John Ameno and Opsitnick said that the borough might not be open to liability.

Patty Ameno disagrees: "Common knowledge tells us that you would have to dig into that ground to do a platform for a parking lot."

According to Opsitnick, he will notify B&W sometime in January about the eminent domain action and could resolve the issue between mid-year and the end of year.

"Until B&W responds back, we don't know what any of those issues - like liability or indemnification - will be," said Councilman Brian Johnston. "And I suspect there will be restrictions and limitations on the land use."



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