Cleaning up 19th-century pollution buried around Jacksonville’s Confederate Park will require adding a protective underground wall and demolishing buildings constructed on long-forgotten contamination, state environmental officials have told the city.
That will apparently mean tearing down a small building off Main Street downtown without damaging two others, one just feet away, that the city declared landmarks this year.
And it could call for digging up parts of the park on Springfield’s southern edge and scooping sediment out of a pond there and along Hogans Creek, where chemicals from coal tar used at a plant that manufactured natural gas have seeped into ground water for generations.
Direction the city received this month from Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection pushes the start of a long-discussed park cleanup closer to reality, something that people involved with the surrounding area have heard about for years.
“I think it’s awesome that the cleanup is beginning. The health of the community is very important,” said Gloria DeVall, a historic preservation advocate who had asked the city to declare three buildings that back up to the creek as landmarks because the structures were used by Claude Nolan Cadillac, the city’s first car dealership and the oldest Cadillac dealer in the South.
The cleanup would demolish one of the three buildings at 937 N. Main St., a red brick structure designed by locally famed architect Henry Klutho. But DeVall, who championed the designation to the city’s Historic Preservation Commission and to the City Council, said that loss was unavoidable.
“It was the only way to get the other two buildings landmarked,” she said. “It would not have gone through. We had to sacrifice it.”
After reviewing three cleanup options the city offered in January, the state approved two of them and told the city to have a final cleanup plan ready by November.
Hitting that deadline will be a problem, said Aleizha Batson, a city spokeswoman.
“We are working to pull all aspects of the plan together, however we will be asking for an extension,” Batson said. The city doesn’t have anyone under contract who can prepare a cleanup plan right away, she said, and it will be September before the city’s procurement process gets started.
The choices the state approved for the cleanup both involved creating a buried wall about 2,100 feet long that would block groundwater moving through a zone of contaminated soil. The wall would reach 40 feet below ground level and soil inside would either be excavated and carted away to a landfill or mixed with a cement-like material that would solidify in place keeping contaminants where they are.
The 51,000 cubic yards of stabilizing material by itself is expected to cost almost $3.2 million, and the full cost for a cleanup is expected to top $17 million.
How that’s going to be paid for isn’t settled yet.
The city sued neighboring property owners — Jacksonville Hospitality Holdings L.P. and Shoppes of Lakeside Inc. — in federal court in 2012, saying they hadn’t done anything to solve a problem that was partly theirs. But the city was also partly liable, too, because the park had some coal tar from the old gas plant.
Since the plant had been built in the late 19th century, closed and been forgotten, whole generations of construction had happened around the creek. The buildings that had housed Claude Nolan’s dealership became the now-abandoned E.H. Thompson buildings, and the Park View Inn at Main and State streets — where the gas plant stood in the 1880s — had flourished, faded and been torn down with the exception of a parking garage. That garage would be demolished as part of the cleanup.
But attorneys for the businesses the city sued have been pushing back.
The state’s approach to the cleanup “virtually guarantees” that efforts to decide who’s liable “will be unnecessarily frustrated, unsynchronized, inequitable and ultimately not in the interests of any of the stakeholders,” a lawyer representing owners of the Park View site, James C. Rinaman III, said by email.
Shoppes of Lakeside attorney Mary Sorrell wrote to the state in June that cleanup work suggested near Hogans Creek “is not supported by the data.” While there is pollution in the ground, she added, “it has been present … for over 115 years and has barely migrated.” Sorrell did not return a phone message left late last week.
The city is “in legal discussion with all property owners and hopes for a positive outcome,” Batson said. The city would like to get agreement on who picks up the bill before the work is done, but “if it is prolonged, we will consider all options,” Batson said by email.
Though the site is old, there’s not limitless time to settle the dispute.
The state had recommended asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take over the cleanup as a federal Superfund project — where the cleanup bill is passed on to the responsible parties after the fact — during former Mayor John Peyton’s term in office. The state backed off that plan when the city took steps to get some solutions.
Steve Patterson: (904) 359-4263