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August 12, 2022

Marshall Residents being asked again to hold the forever liability and maintenance costs of the Velsicol Superfund Site

By John Kraft & Kirk Allen

On January 24, 2021

Marshall, IL. (ECWd) –

I was shocked to be informed that a request by the Velsicol property owners to sell the property to the City was even being considered by Marshall’s Mayor and the Economic Development person.  I thought nobody could be that dumb to consider accepting even if it were donated.  One Executive session discussion meeting was held between the Marshall City Council and Velsicol to consider starting price negotiations (Price to be determined if the City Council expresses a desire to proceed).  No further action is on the January 25, 2021 meeting agenda.

Since I am the only remaining City Alderman who was involved in the last attempt by Velsicol to unload the poison patch (I wrote a newspaper article on that very subject back in 2012), I openly expressed my total opposition to any action by the City at that January 18, 2021 discussion meeting and stated I will vote NO.  There is NO doubt in my mind that it is NOT in the best interests of the City of Marshall to take possession of the Velsicol site; either from liability or cost to the community considerations.  The basic contamination problem is that the site is contaminated with a variety of dangerous petroleum compounds and chlorinated hydrocarbons don’t chemically break down and stay in the soil (such as chlordane) forever.

The site has been up for sale since 2012 and although private interests have inquired, no one has bought the site.  Velsicol has to sell the entire site as one unit because if it were separated into smaller sellable parts, the uncontaminated sites will never sell because no one wants the unusable contaminated areas.  I happen to know an extremely wealthy person (he wrote a BIG check on our new swimming pool) and asked him about why he didn’t buy it (he tried) and whether the City should get it.  He informed me that the liability issues ended sale discussions and that the City of Marshall should not take possession either by purchase or by donation.  He allowed me to use his name in the discussion and Velsicol officials admitted they had talked to him.  Everyone in Marshall knows who he is and if he won’t touch it, why should we?

The liability issues that the city would have if anything went wrong are complex legalities and I am not a lawyer, but it appears to me that if the city left the site alone in the present condition and altered nothing, we probably wouldn’t have any problems (I can’t say about earthquakes) in our lifetimes.  However (and this is very simplistic), if areas of contamination are tampered with (during development or any opening to use), it’s the city’s problem and not Velsicol.  Once the City assumes full title, the liabilities the city is subject to are there FOREVER.  Whether Velsicol will stay around concerns me because of this statement on the term sheet:  “It is anticipated that Velsicol will continue to be a party to the existing consent decree.”  As we all know, environmental lawsuit settlements require very expensive lawyers and huge sums of money and the city simply doesn’t have that kind of money.

Basically what the local promoters of a possible city purchase or donation see is the opportunity to break up the site after the city takes possession of the land.  We have some local business types who would want to cherry pick the site and separate the uncontaminated parts from the contaminated parts and make money as they would any other land.  The advantage of close proximity to a railroad and the interstate enhances the land value (although there is plenty of available land in the immediate area – all you have to do is pay the price).  That’s economic development into a few pockets.  The money the city would make from the sales would quickly be spent and future income from the sold land won’t go to the city.  The city will be left with the contaminated land.  That contaminated land has a forever maintenance cost that city residents will pay forever (a future property tax item?).  Those O&M costs are there because the land is contaminated.  If the city took possession of the land, the annual property taxes now paid to the county, school, library, and a part to the city, and other property taxes will be forever not paid on this land because it will be government owned and therefore tax exempt.  Compound the tax figure for a 100 years with normal annual increases and that alone will be close to half a million dollars.

The permanent operation and maintenance costs (O&M) costs to the City are understated at 40K/yr on one of the proposal sheets given out to induce Council Members to buy the property.  The O&M costs to the city in reality won’t be very much less than the Current Velsicol costs (94.5K/yr) if at all.  Costs to private industry are often less than municipalities (because prevailing wage becomes involved) and also city employees cost much more (while the work load appears to be part time, adding duties to limited numbers can require another employee and that cost total package of wages plus health insurance plus the usual union benefits adds $60K to the city budget).  In fact, the city manpower cost was left off the estimate by Velsicol while it was listed on Velsicol O&M current expenditures.  Because O&M costs are permanent, compounding 30 years at $90K/yr (not considering inflation) is $2,700,000 and that’s conservative.  That’s quite a bite taken out of the city budget each year.  Where will we get the replacement money?  If you keep the good land forever and farm it, the amount made is approximately ½ what you need for O&M.  The city property taxpayers have to make up the other half.

I am not making liberal political objections to the proposal.  Everyone locally knows I am conservative anyway.  I am voting against this proposal for sound fiscal and liability reasons.  And there is another reason: Year after year, local residents going to Walmart see hay raised each year on the big field next to the highway (in front of the mound).  That area is listed as “can develop with restrictions”.  Ever wonder why no regular crops are raised?  Ask any farmer who has a tool bar with anhydrous….

All the above cost figures are considered if Velsicol gave the city the property as a donation.  Only document property value information listed: “Appraisal from 2013 was $1.1 M and we think today it is worth more.”  As of now, no price has been given unless the city council will enter into a non-binding purchase agreement to receive more in-depth information from the IL-EPA and US-EPA and hire a qualified environmental attorney, Jennifer Martin of Hepler Broom.  Marshall City residents should call their alderman and tell them to FORGET ABOUT IT!!

Warren J. Le Fever

Marshall City Alderman Ward 3

Warren J Le Fever

[email protected]

 

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2 Comments
  • Robert O. Bogue
    Posted at 09:33h, 28 January

    As an Edgar County resident located nearly 13 miles north of the former Velsicol Chemical plant, I vividly recall the chemical stench wafting onto our property back when. Since then and even after the clean up, claims were made that our counties residents now enjoy a higher incidence of cancer/lung/medical issues than nearly all areas in our state/nation because of the Velsico Chemical Plant..
    Although the true dangers may not have been known when the plant was established, they are today.
    The superfund monies, hence the term superfund…was site set up by the feds to halt and abate the absolute worst environmental catastrophes scattered across our nation. This site garnered priority over many sites based on it’s toxicity.
    There is no doubt, this was and remains a hazardous site.
    Why anyone with a lick of common sense would suggest ownership or development is beyond me. Perhaps the thinking is that enough time has passed that no one would recall the events and money could be made by duping some long enough for the investors to leave town. If zoning exists..it should be zoned a toxic dump.
    You can put lipstick on a pig……

    • PK
      Posted at 10:57h, 02 February

      News to me…that such a rancid, harmful place ever existed in Illinois. A review of the infamous Love Canal would deter ideas to sale the site for certain land development. Zone it as a superfund site.

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