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Streator council applies for EPA grant

$300,000 would be used to assess contaminated property

The Streator City Council agreed to apply for a $300,000 community assessment grant with the EPA Brownfields Program.

The assessment will determine properties that are in need of petroleum and other contamination cleanup.

The city has been denied for the assessment grant twice. In 2015, the city applied for $400,000 and in 2016 the city applied for $300,000. Both applications were denied with the critique that it was a “great application.”

City Manager Scot Wrighton said with the development of more planning documents, acquiring the Smith-Douglass property, southeast of Streator, and a tax increment financing district that includes Smith-Douglass, the city should be in better shape to acquire the grant.

The city will pay $2,500 to Fehr-Graham & Associates to prepare the grant application.

Wrighton said having an assessment is a useful tool for prospective property buyers. Uncertainty of whether a property is environmentally contaminated can cause a deal to go south, he said.

“We need the information,” said Mayor Jimmie Lansford.

Wrighton said the EPA used to make it where cities had to get an assessment before they could acquire Brownfield grants for cleanup projects, but that is no longer the case if the project already has a previous study. He said the city is not ready to tackle cleanup of Smith-Douglass, because it hasn’t done its own assessment and other assessments are at least 15 years old.

Wrighton indicated cleanup of Smith-Douglass will be a multi-faceted project once it’s tackled, utilizing grant money as well as the city’s TIF fund. Cleanup also would likely be done in increments. He indicated the track of land with the gypsum pile is not recoverable, but other tracks may be developable sites.

From the 1940s to 1985, a number of owners ran the fertilizer plant on that site. Smith-Douglass filed for bankruptcy in 1983, and its successor, SECO, did the same two years later, when the plant shut down for good.

A federal bankruptcy court in North Carolina let Smith-Douglass abandon the site unconditionally, according to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. A federal appeals court affirmed that decision in 1988, although the state fought it. This made it an orphan site, which means it had no owner.

In the 1980s, the state EPA found hazardous materials at Smith-Douglass, including blasting caps, solvents and caustics. In 1989, the state spent $500,000 on removing the materials. The property's ponds remain acidic, officials say.

Streator took control of the property in April 2016 and extended its TIF district to include it.

In its long-term plans, the City Council has talked about developing the south side of Streator where railroad connections are present, acknowledging the cleanup of Smith-Douglass would be necessary.

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