City applies for MDNR funding for additional Environmental Site Assessment on old Polytech property

Dave Marner
Managing Editor

Owensville aldermen on Sept. 4 voted unanimously to seek state funding for a follow-up environmental site assessment on the former Polytech plastics manufacturing site which could, if hazardous remnants of a 1988 explosion and fire are found, mean a clean-up is required.

Aldermen have selected the city-owned 5.4-acre site as the location of a new police station they hope to build. Elected officials earlier this year, fully aware of the potential for contamination left-over from the Polytech operations, proceeded with plans to have phase one of an Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) conducted by a licensed firm which follows state and federal guidelines related to hazardous materials.

Cochran Engineering reviewed city documents this past spring and conducted on-site examinations of the property listed as 819 West Franklin Avenue. The Owensville Fire Department’s Station No. 1 occupies a portion of the site.

“They believe there’s some possibility of soil contamination on both sites,” City Administrator Nathan Schauf told aldermen at their Aug. 2 meeting. 

The second site the city sought the ESA for was a small tract of land behind City Hall which once was occupied by an MFA granary.  

He told them the second phase of an Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) on the property would likely include soil and groundwater samples.

“The ESA report should include possible ways to remediate the situation,” Schauf told them. “There’s either PCBs there or nothing.”

A polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) is an organic chlorine once widely deployed as dielectric and coolant fluids in electrical apparatus such as transformers. At least two transformers were destroyed during the Polytech fire, the Cochran study noted. PCBs were banned in the U.S. in 1979 amid suggestions that these chemicals could have unintended impacts on human and environmental health.

Cochran’s report to the city was delivered prior to the July 16 meeting and discussed in generalities at meetings in August and last week.

“If we get that Phase 2 report and it says  it’s contaminated, yes, we do have to do remediation,” Schauf told the board in early August. “If there is contamination, where do we stop?”

Ward 1 Alderman Kevin McFadden reminded his fellow board members they were “all in” for developing the site into  a new police station.

“We’re all in. We bite the bullet and do it,” he said.

“It should have been taken care of years ago and here we are fixing it again,” said Mayor John Kamler last month. “Some of these sites are horribly expensive. That’s my two cents.”

Schauf commented that city officials serving now had at least the “moral obligation” to remove any contaminants if they did indeed remain on the site.

“(It’s a) moral obligation versus a legal obligation,” Schauf told the board. “I can’t speak on the legal obligation but the question is do we sit on it or clean it up?”

Deputy City Clerk Peggy Farrell pointed out the city’s paperwork shows that two underground storage tanks used by Polytech had been removed. Kamler confirmed that assessment.

Denise Bohl, a Ward 2 representative, asked how the site was acquired by the city.

Kamler told the board the city purchased it, and added, “Someone didn’t do their due diligence, of course.”

“The worst part is, how much is there?” asked Rob Borgmann, board president and Bohl’s fellow representative in Ward 2 where the site is located. “They (inspectors) can give us an estimate on how much is there.”

Last week, in a rescheduled meeting held Tuesday due to the Monday holiday on Labor Day, Schauf continued the discussion by explaining the Missouri Department of Natural Resources has a program which helps governmental agencies obtain funding for environmental clean-ups.

While there was no guarantee the city would receive funding from the MDNR, a representative of the agency informed city staff the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a similar program with funding available which is designated for use by the end of the calendar year.

If the city’s application is not funded by MDNR, Schauf said he was told the state agency will forward the application directly to the EPA.

“(MDNR) can’t guarantee funding but she made it awfully suggesting, that it is something we’d be interested in,” said Schauf.

Schauf told aldermen their decision would mean they would proceed with plans to develop the site. There would be no turning back.

“This would kind of be the turning point where we don’t turn back, essentially,” Schauf told aldermen Sept. 4. “Committing to either cleaning it up, at the very least, but it has been the prime location for a police station for a long time. So, now, this is just the, ‘we’re doing it.’”

“I think we need to move forward,” said Borgmann. “Regardless, of whatever we find, it’s going to have to be done, regardless.”

McFadden made the a motion for city staff to complete an application to participate in the Missouri Department of Natural Resource’s Brownfields Voluntary Clean-up Program.

Schauf said Tuesday the application paperwork was filed on Friday. He noted the city, if it is approved for the program, would not receive any funding directly. MDNR would handle reimbursing qualified inspectors directly if a follow-up ESA (Phase 2)is warranted.

The program would also help pay for clean-up costs if contaminants are discovered.

Aldermen also requested other sections of the property be examined further in detail as the city would eventually like to build a new helicopter ambulance landing pad near the existing fire station.

The ESA conducted as “Phase 1” cost the city $4,000.