on GE land
Uncertain if located on property Decatur wants to purchase
By Evan Belanger
Federal officials say a 34-year-old waste site buried near Point Mallard Park likely does not pose a serious human health risk.
But few records are available to show what the site contains or whether it is inside a property the Decatur City Council hopes to purchase.
The council unanimously approved a measure Monday to offer General Electric Co. up to $1.8 million for an undeveloped, 44-acre property between Point Mallard Park and the GE plant off Point Mallard Drive.
City officials say purchasing the property, which GE only recently placed on the market, will give them more say in how it is developed and will protect the city’s interest in the area.
But, according to records maintained by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the property could contain a buried waste site — a remnant of the property’s former owner, Fedders Corp.
Before GE’s purchase of the property in 1973, Fedders owned all the land and the building that has been expanded to become the GE plant that most Decatur residents know today. Fedders manufactured refrigeration and air-conditioning components at the site.
EPA records obtained by The Daily on Wednesday show that Fedders used a two-acre portion of the property to accumulate waste for about two decades, between 1953 and 1973. Officials said the site was about 100 yards from the original plant building, near an unnamed tributary of the Tennessee River.
In 1973, before selling the property to GE, records show, Fedders obtained a permit to burn the accumulated waste product and buried it in 10-foot-deep pits at the same location. The waste product was not identified.
“I guess it was just from whatever they were doing out there,” said Laura Niles, an EPA spokeswoman.
Niles said a flood in 1974 is thought to have washed downstream any surface contamination that may have been left behind, but EPA has no records of any cleanup efforts to remove the buried materials.
“It looks like it was just dumped in pits. It doesn’t say anything about barrels or any other containers,” Niles said. “It’s possible the state oversaw some sort of cleanup.”
Officials with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management did not respond to repeated requests for information about the site.
EPA records show the local dumpsite and burial area were first identified as a potential hazard in 1980, the same year a federal legislative act established EPA’s Superfund Information System. The system is designed to help EPA and the public identify and clean up hazardous waste sites.
Records show EPA conducted two assessments and one site inspection of the GE-Fedders site between 1981 and 1991. It was eventually removed from the Superfund list, apparently because contamination levels were not enough to warrant immediate or long-term cleanup.
“That doesn’t mean that there was no contamination present at all,” Niles said. “Just that for our site inspection purposes, it wasn’t contamination that scored high enough to warrant a major EPA cleanup.”
Niles said she does not know if ADEM was involved in any of the inspections.
When questioned about the property Thursday, Mayor Don Kyle said he had received “an anonymous letter” alerting him to the presence of the site, but he did not know if it is included in the property GE is selling.
He said the city would require the property pass stringent environmental tests before it would pay any money for it.
“If it is a hazardous site, the property really loses its value in a hurry,” he said. “It wouldn’t be good for much more than a parking lot or some sort of commercial use.”
When discussion began about purchasing the GE property, Kyle said his negotiations for the land would depend heavily on in-depth surveys to determine the usefulness of the property.
Repeated attempts to contact GE officials involved in the property’s potential sale were unsuccessful Thursday and Friday. A spokesman with Harbert Realty Services, which is marketing the property for GE, declined to comment Thursday, saying all media requests must go through the GE corporate office.
He also declined to release a survey of the property, which could have shown whether the waste site is included in the for-sale area.
According to city documents, GE has requested permission to subdivide about 35 acres from its original 128.
The divided plot is smaller than city officials expected, but it excludes the alleged waste site. City officials said they had no explanation for the smaller-than-expected subdivide, but they would still pursue the full 44 acres.
While city officials say they have no particular plans for the property, discussions include building a Point Mallard Hotel and Convention Center or a marina on the Tennessee River.
Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Dunlap said it is important that the city gain control of the property, given its proximity to Point Mallard Park.
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