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City pays more than expected for cleanup at central office site

SALISBURY — Clean up of massive contamination at the proposed school central office site cost the city nearly three times more than expected.
Although the state was expected to reimburse Salisbury for all but $20,000 of the clean-up cost, the city ended up paying $55,871 for the abatement.
City Manager Doug Paris announced to City Council on May 21 that the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources had reimbursed the city and contractor HS&E Inc. $430,060 for the cleanup at 329 S. Main St.
The state’s cleanup fund did reimburse $430,060 for the project, but the total claim was $496,665, said Vance Jackson, head of the Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund. The difference — $66,605 — was not reimbursed, Jackson said.
He said the expenses either did not qualify, were not pre-approved as required or were duplication of other costs.
City spokeswoman Elaney Hasselmann said the city paid $55,871 for the cleanup, including the $20,000 deductible, after negotiating a lower price with the contractor.
Paris did not mention during the May 21 meeting that the city would pay more than $20,000 for the cleanup. He later told the Post he thought the state would reimburse all costs except the deductible.
“We were under that impression as well; however there were some expenses not eligible for reimbursement,” Paris said in an email.
Paris said the city appreciates the partnership with the state to return the downtown corner to productive use.
“Otherwise it would have remained an eyesore,” Paris said.
According to Jackson, most of the costs the state did not reimburse included:
• Removal of the underground storage tank system and contents, $20,354 — never a reimbursable expense from the fund
• Disposal of groundwater, or the accumulated precipitation at the site, $21,468 — state received no pre-approval submission
• Consultant travel, $4,972 — duplication of costs already covered as part of specified tasks
• Fund deductible, $20,000

Hasselmann said after negotiating with the contractor, the city paid $32,354 for the disposal of tanks and contaminated rain water and $3,517 for soil compaction and testing for load bearing, as well as the deductible.
The city and HS&E removed orphaned fuel storage tanks and supply lines. HS&E oversaw the remediation of contaminated soil.
In February, Jackson said the state had preapproved about $400,000 in reimbursements for Salisbury. All of Salisbury’s costs related to the cleanup — up to $1 million — would be reimbursed in full after the $20,000 deductible, he said at the time.
Mayor Paul Woodson said he thought the city was upfront about the cost of the cleanup.
“Some things popped up at the last minute,” he said.
Woodson said getting a $496,000 cleanup for $56,000 is a bargain.
“It’s the best deal that we ever got in our lives,” he said. “It was unbelievably cheap, a great deal.”
The city plans to borrow $8 million on behalf of the Rowan-Salisbury School System to build the central office. The state has cleared the land for development, although groundwater contamination monitoring will continue.
The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources has given the city the green light to develop the site, but the state’s Local Government Commission has to approve the project before the city borrows the money.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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