Wayne County may exercise its option
By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
TRENTON – After a closed session meeting during the July 17 city council meeting, the council voted unanimously to not exercise its first right of refusal to purchase the former McLouth site.
Wayne County may now exercise its option to acquire the property and redevelop it.
Councilman Dan Gillespie made the motion, seconded by Councilman Steven Rzeppa.
At a town hall meeting July 12, council members expressed concern that even if the city were not held responsible for the site’s environmental cleanup, the cost of acquiring and developing the property could put the city at financial risk.
Councilman Robert Howey said July 12 that not only would Trenton need to pay $2.5 million in back taxes owed to other entities to acquire the property, it would forfeit the $1.4 million in back taxes owed to the city that another entity could potentially pay to acquire the site.
“That $1.4 million is money that would be coming back into our coffers,” Howey said. “If this piece of property is so marketable and so valuable, why hasn’t it sold in the past years?”
Howey said his biggest concern is with the liability for the environmental cleanup.
“No one can really tell us if that environmental clean up is $1 million or $10 million. Could it be $100 million?” Howey said. “Do we want to take that risk?
“My other concern is that we, the city of Trenton, would be the bank on this thing. Why do we want to go further in debt? We don’t want the liability. Why would a potential developer?”
Councilman William LeFevre said July 12 that the decision was “a no brainer,” and mentioned that the state of Michigan didn’t want to touch the site.
“It’s not the $3.9 million that scares me, it’s the rest of the information,” LeFevre said. “Right now there is no rail access to that property. That’s scary. I have been told it would cost $1,000 a day for security. To clean the property up, additional lawsuits – the neighboring property owners could sue us – and right or wrong, it could cost us a lot of money to defend it.”
LeFevre said the project is too big for the city.
“It’s way over our heads,” he said. “We have got the most amount of money involved. We’ve got $1.4 million (in back taxes) that we need to survive. If we give that up and buy it for $2.5 million, that is $1.4 million we are going to lose.”
Councilwoman Timber Baun-Crooks said July 12 that she was concerned that no other developers have wanted to purchase the property in the past.
“We were worried about stuff that would have been hazardous to the community,” she said. “We are not going to allow that to happen.”
She said the city still doesn’t have full information about the environmental contamination of the property, and is waiting for study results.
“There’s so many unknowns,” Baun-Crooks said. “The only way we can control that property right now is through zoning. We know it is probably going to be industrial, but we don’t want pet coke.
“We know Downriver has put up with breathing this hazardous material from all our factories since I was a little kid and can remember, so that scares me right there. The risk is outweighing the good for me at this point.”
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at [email protected].)