SALISBURY — Wary to commit to a project that might snowball in costs, the Salisbury City Council agreed to further explore working with the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to remove contamination from a local property.
A recent American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grant to the tune of $100,000 was offered to the city to help decontaminate the former Linens of the Week property in downtown Salisbury. The grant would be used to pay for the removal of an underground fuel tank. However, Salisbury would need to finance partial demolition of the building to allow access to the tank. Costs for the demolition were estimated to be $15,000 to $20,000.
“Certain things have to be done before the MDE comes in to do its part,” said Council President Terry Cohen.
The city would be responsible for demolishing wall and roof sections at the site but would not participate in the actual removal of contamination. Still, some on the council hesitated, worried demolition could have negative consequences.
“We have a building here that carries with it a lot of liability,” said Cohen, citing possible traces of lead-based paint or asbestos that might be found in the walls of the property.
City Administrator John Pick understood the worries but doubted minor demolition would spread contaminates.
“We will not be disturbing the soil in our efforts,” he said, adding the environmental aspect would be MDE’s priority.
MDE Program Administrator Jim Carroll assured the council that his department had handled a number of similar projects, including one in Baltimore that was considerably worse than the current situation.
Removing the fuel tanks will take care of most of the problem, he said, but trace amounts will remain.
“The contamination is going to remain on site and will breakdown and deteriorate over time,” he said.
While those contaminates deteriorate, added Carroll, measures could be taken by the city, such as the installation of a vapor barrier.
All in all, he promised, MDE would only need a small commitment from the city. Carroll noted that time was a factor.
“There is a limited window of opportunity for the city,” agreed Assistant City Administrator Loré Chambers.
The endeavor must be green-lighted by Salisbury before Sept. 30 to take advantage of the ARRA grant. Without the grant, Carroll wasn’t sure when enough money to remove the tanks would again be available.
“I can’t promise we’ll be able to find another funding source,” he said.
Pick encouraged the council to take advantage of the opening while it existed.
Councilwoman Laura Mitchell proposed that the council act on the advice of its consultants. She said she was “comfortable” with the information she had gotten so far and thought the $100,000 grant was too good to pass up. Her colleagues, however, weren’t as confident.
Cohen admitted that she didn’t want to miss the chance for funding but did worry that the city might end up “being on the hook” for more money than they first expected.
Council Vice President Deborah Campbell said, “I also don’t want us to make a hasty decision to chase this money” but she added, “Here’s $100,000 that’s going to get rid of the tanks.”
Carroll assured the council that if the MDE was unable to complete the project with the funds available, it would still do as much as possible in regards to decontamination.
The council agreed to at least look into what the city’s costs might be in better detail. After further estimates are collected from potential contractures, the council will further consider accepting the grant.