Spill clean-up takes funds for other work
By Rachel Ravina, Staff Writer
(Sept. 26, 2019) Heron Park is closed, again, but this time until further notice. Given the park’s unexpected lack of money, the Berlin Town Council decided Monday night there is no other course of action to take, at least for now.
Councilman Zack Tyndall cited safety concerns and moved to close the park indefinitely, even though the demolition of structures on the former chicken processing plant property remains unfinished business.
He said town officials should consider other payment opportunities for the removal of those buildings. The motion passed in a 3-1 vote with Councilman Dean Burrell dissenting.
The council also approved another payment, this one for $25,874.89, to Chesapeake Environmental Services for its work to clean up a spill of sodium hydroxide (caustic soda or lye) that occurred in June during the demolition work by another contractor.
Williams said the town has spent roughly $265,000 on the cleanup project, and will have spent about $283,000 once everything is completed. It is that expense that depleted the park’s funds.
The park was closed for much of that process and reopened earlier this month, albeit with most its funding having been set aside to cover Chesapeake’s bill. Meanwhile, the Maryland Department of the Environment and Environmental Protection Agency investigating the release of sodium hydroxide on park grounds.
During Monday’s council session, several residents expressed concerns about the park’s situation, with Deborah Fletcher asking if selling or leasing the property might be an option.
“Can we try to create things that are going to have income?” Fletcher asked.
While the subject was not listed on the council’s meeting agenda, Williams told staff, councilmen and members of the public that Goody Hill Groundwork could finish the demolition if the town authorized up to $55,000 to pay for a series of projects. Williams cited safety and aesthetic concerns as reasons to take it on.
Tyndall asked Williams how the town would pay for the work if officials authorized it.
Williams replied the council might need to “look into borrowing from ourselves” or via money set aside for a community center.
Burrell agreed and moved to press on with revitalization efforts.
“The time is today and I do believe that we need to proceed with trying to get this property as pristine as possible,” Burrell said.
That initial motion failed in a 1-3 vote with Councilmen Elroy Brittingham, Thom Gulyas and Tyndall dissenting.
Other residents asked about the potential costs associated with underground piping on the property.
“Those pipes haven’t been used in maybe 15 years,” Williams said.
Resident Marie Velong urged the council to press pause on the project until the necessary funds are available.
She added that borrowing from one municipal source to pay for an unrelated project is not the answer.
“That’s what you’re starting to do with this and that’s how we got into trouble,” she said, referring to the town’s need to replenish the water and sewer funds.
Fletcher agreed and asked for town officials to “let the dust settle.”
“Can’t we just put the brakes on … non-essential spending?” she said.
Velong also slammed members of the council for buying the park property in the first place, citing a 2017 report that it would take millions to clean-up the ponds.
“I mean this was a catastrophe,” Velong said. “It should never have been bought with knowing what was there.”
Councilman Troy Purnell, the property owner who sold the parcel to the town, was absent from Monday’s meeting.