Lupton City residents insist city and county clear dangerous mill site

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Residents in Lupton City and neighborhood leaders are insisting the city and county clear a dangerous, half-demolished mill near where they live.

Heaps of old brick, rotting wood and run down buildings line Mercer street.

The city took over ownership of the property after the RL Stowe Mill shut down and couldn't pay property taxes.

On Jan. 6, 2017, Mayor Berke pledged $1.5 million to begin cleanup in July 2017, when the city and Hamilton County became owners of the property through unpaid taxes.

“We don’t want more excuses about why nothing is happening day after day. It’s unacceptable,” said Patti Mitchell, who lives in Lupton City and has looked over the monstrosity for 15 years. “We insist the city and county clean up this eyesore or sell it and release taxpayer money.”

“We know there are chemicals on the site and that this takes time and of course we want it done right, but there is a lot of time unaccounted for where nothing has been happening out here,” said Mitchell, standing alongside 20 of her Lupton City neighbors.

Once a productive yarn mill at the center of a flourishing community, the wreckage is deemed a brownfield because of contaminants in the soil. Lupton City, LLC., who owned the property until 2017, abandoned it without finishing removal of the ruins.

“For residents who have called Lupton City home for generations, the current state is like a kick in the teeth,” said Mark Mullins, president of the Fairfax Heights/Bagwell City Neighborhood Association. “First, we had a prospector who scrapped the site, left this dangerous mess and was not held accountable. Then, we got new owners - the city and county, funding, and they’ve neglected us just like the other guys.”

For brownfields, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation requires a remediation work plan before cleanup can happen.

“It’s no surprise that they have to submit a redevelopment plan to TDEC, but why haven’t they done that? Why did they not start developing that plan when funding was awarded?” said Mitchell. “If you know the process and you know it’s going to take a while, why would you not take step one as soon as possible? It’s not like it was a surprise that the city and county were going to become owners of this property last year.”

Neighborhood association members say the wreckage is harmful to the wellbeing of the neighborhood and property values, and they want it cleaned up before it causes even more damage. They’re insisting the city and county start work now or sell the site to a buyer willing to remediate the property.

Lupton city residents say the run down mill has caused influx of rodents and mosquitoes.

The city says they're testing shows carcinogenic material in the ruble, another reason residents are concerned about the future of the area.

Neighborhood leaders urge residents to contact both mayors directly by email and phone: Chattanooga Mayor Berke can be reached at mayor@chattanooga.gov or (423) 643-7800, and Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger can be reached at countymayor@hamiltontn.gov or (423)209-6100.

Justin Holland, Administrator of Chattanooga Department of Public Works, released the following statement Wednesday:

"We understand the mill site remains a blighted area in this neighborhood, and its condition is frustrating to the families who live nearby. Remediating the site is an extremely complex project. As soon as the Chattanooga City Council approved the funding for this project last fall, we began working on a solution to convert this brownfield into a clean and safe greenfield. We continue to pursue these action steps as quickly as we can, and once the competitive bid process is complete and a contractor selected, work is expected to begin on the site as early as March of 2019."

The City of Chattanooga sent out the following letter and FAQ to Neighborhood Association President Mark Mullins:

"Dear Lupton City Community,

As you know, the City has been working for the past year to remediate the site of the former R.L. Stowe Mills in Lupton City. I’m reaching out as you may have seen some conflicting and confusing information regarding the status of the project.

Over the past year, we have been conducting a series of tests to understand the full extent of the contamination of the site and develop an appropriate plan for remediation.

While we had initially planned to request contractor bids earlier, testing had not yet finished. Therefore, to keep costs down and the project as high quality as possible, we chose to wait until that was complete.

The City anticipates the consultant completion of the Soil Management Plan this week, thus finalizing the preparation of the Voluntary Agreement to be submitted to TDEC. Once the City has submitted the agreement, the final preparations of the plans and specification can move forward to advertise the clean up work for a competitive bid in early November. The Competitive Bids are expected to be received by mid December and forwarded to City Council for approval in January. Once the competitive bid process is complete and a contractor selected, work can begin in late February to early March 2019 on the site to transform the site into the desired greenfield. Again, this will take time but each step is required by state law.

We want to clean up this eyesore as quickly as possible so it’s a greenfield instead of a brownfield. Ultimately, while everyone wants this to happen quickly, we also want to do it correctly for the economic and physical health of this neighborhood.

We’ve outlined our timeline and included a FAQ document we hope answers any questions you may have at this point. Additionally, if you have any question we didn’t answer please feel free to reach out to Amy Lowdermilk, Director of Constituent Services at alowdermilk@chattanooga.gov or (423) 643-7814.

Thank you for your patience and commitment to your community.

Sincerely,

Maura Black Sullivan, Chief Operating Officer

Frequently Asked Questions:

-What has happened so far with this project?

-In January 2017, Mayor Berke announced he planned to introduce a budget for council’s consideration that included the funds for clean up.

-In September 2017, Council reviewed and passed that budget. An additional $250,000 in funding was reviewed and passed in July 2018.

-In July 2017, the City gained full and complete ownership of the property.

-In August 2017, design work began.

-In September 2017, soil testing occurred.

-In January 2018, additional contaminants were discovered and further soil testing occurred in March and in May to help develop what-if scenarios of remediating one side or the other to make the future site more construction-ready as opposed to just cleaning, rubblizing, and soil capping the site for a greenfield. Without knowing what the future buildout would be, it was determined that the most cost efficient process for the City would be the greenfield approach.

-S&ME, our geotechnical consultant, is putting the final touches on the Soil Management Plan this week and once completed the City can move forward with submitting the Voluntary Agreement to TDEC.

-As of today, we are approximately 70% complete with the design work. Once this is completed and the plans are approved, we can bid out the work and move forward with the clean up.

-How much is the demolition and remediation of the site going to cost?

The City has already appropriated approximately $1.75 million in capital funds to help with the cleanup of the site.

-What does cleaning/remediating the site entail?

Reworking the storm sewers, cleaning/demolishing steel structures, brick structures, concrete and multi-floor buildings, updating clay pipes and sanitary lines by relocating sewer.

-Why doesn’t the City sell the site as is?

The City is required to go through a process for disposition of the land. It would have to follow the same process with this parcel as it would with any parcel it had received through back taxes; make it safe and habitable, and then release a Request for Proposals (RFP) to find appropriate purchasers.

We then have to go through a formal review process before selecting a purchaser, which could take substantial time. During this time, no clean up work would be happening and there is no guarantee that at the end of that process, the new buyer would clean the land immediately. While certain considerations and accountability measures can be built into the deed (i.e: bond requirements), there is no 100% guarantee that the site would be remediated by the new purchaser.

First, the property would need to go through a process known as mandatory referral which takes approximately one month. Then, it would need to be rezoned, which takes approximately six weeks. From there, an RFP would need to be drafted and issued. This would take approximately one month. Any developer would be allowed to bid on the property. From there, the City would score the proposals and the developer with the highest score would be awarded the property. The scoring process would likely take two to three weeks. Once a buyer was selected, a contract would need to be negotiated regarding the clean up and redevelopment. This could take up to six weeks depending on the terms requested by the neighborhood and the City. There is a possibility that contract terms could not be reached, which would further delay the process and potentially trigger a re-issuing of the RFP.

-What has happened to cause delays?

Projects of this scale and complexity take time. The City did not take over this property until Summer 2017 and allocated funds for demolition into the Capital Improvement Plans for Fiscal Year 2018, which remain there.

However, as we began testing the site the soil was found to have carcinogens, including polychlorinated biphenyls. We are working on finalizing a Soil Management Plan with S&ME, our geotechnical consultant. It’s important that we know the full condition of the property before we begin construction to keep costs down and prevent further construction delays."

This response letter was also promised to other Lupton City neighbors, however they have not yet received this correspondence.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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