Barber: Mall purchase draws near, monitoring wells found on property

Editor's note: This article contains incorrect information from the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The agency contacted the Post about the error after this article was published. A follow-up article includes correct information.

SALISBURY — One Rowan County commissioner says county officials are close to a deal to buy the Salisbury Mall.

But questions have arisen over two groundwater monitoring wells on the Jake Alexander Boulevard property, prompting critics to again cry foul over the county's decision to reject a downtown site for the Rowan-Salisbury School System's central office.

Commissioner Jon Barber said a final vote could come next week for the mall purchase. The Board of Commissioners next meets at 3 p.m. Monday.

Still, the county's attorney said the county doesn't plan to probe the environmental issues at the site until a contract is signed. A due diligence clause would be included in the paperwork, in the event the county found environmental problems.

Barber said he spoke with County Manager Gary Page this week about the deal.

Page told Barber a final price and closing date have not been set, Barber said.

“It's still — negotiations are in progress, doesn't seem to be much movement,” Barber said. “We're going to discuss it at our commissioner meeting next Monday.”

Page has not returned repeated phone calls seeking comment.

Barber did not allude to a potential final price for the mall, but reports have surfaced that the county could spend roughly $3.4 million on the nearly 320,000-square-foot facility.

Commissioners Chairman Jim Sides and Vice Chairman Craig Pierce did not return phone calls seeking comment. Sides has not returned calls from the Post since April.

In an email to fellow commissioners Tuesday night, Barber said he just learned the property has two groundwater monitoring wells — an issue that has lingered on county commissioners' lips for the last year as officials have raised concerns about groundwater contamination at the city's proposed central office site, 329 South Main St.

“Please accept my apologies in advance if I have not understood this issue regarding the Salisbury Mall,” Barber began. “Are there groundwater monitoring wells on this property? If so, why have we not discussed this?

“If this is indeed true, I'm requesting a phase 1 and phase 2 environmental assessment before the majority of the board proceeds any further with the purchase of this property,” Barber wrote.

He later questioned the board's transparency in the mall transaction.

“The public needs to be fully informed regarding all aspects of this property before a majority of the board spends millions of taxpayer dollars,” he said. “I'm very concerned about our transparency with the public and keeping everyone on the board informed and not just those who have voted to purchase this property.”

In an email Wednesday, Cathy Akroyd, spokeswoman for the state's environment and natural resources department, said the two wells were installed earlier this year.

“The wells are Type II monitoring wells, which are standard for sampling groundwater,” Akroyd wrote. “The wells are in place to make it possible to continue to sample the groundwater and continue to monitor there.”

Akroyd said she could not immediately find the cause for the well installations.

“These wells are also to be used in the remediation process, in which a vacuum will be applied to the wells,” Akroyd wrote. “This is called an MMPE (Mobile Multi-Phase Extraction) or AFVR (Aggressive Fluid Vapor Recovery) event, in which a vacuum is applied to remove any volatile contaminants from the groundwater.”

When reached by phone Wednesday, Barber said he was not previously aware of the monitoring wells under the property and remains opposed to the project.

“We need to do our due diligence. If there are in fact groundwater monitoring wells going on out there then we need to know that,” he said. “I think that's something important for us to know and the public.”

The city has been working to get public records related to the Salisbury Mall purchase in recent weeks.

In an email obtained by the Post, County Attorney Jay Dees said the county plans to sign a contract for the mall before investigating the environmental concerns.

“Any contract for the purchase of the Salisbury Mall will include provisions for a due diligence or inspection period, during which the county will undertake environmental due diligence,” Dees wrote. “This provision will allow the buyer to terminate the contract upon discovery of adverse environmental conditions.”

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.

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