Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018
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City land remains barren

Farm slow to take root at old Doehler-Jarvis site


Cleanup of the former Doehler-Jarvis factory site in central Toledo has been slow to develop.

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For years, city and community officials have mulled what to do with the overgrown, junk-strewn site of the former Doehler-Jarvis plant on Smead Avenue in central Toledo.

It's been considered as a location for a near-maximum-security prison, eyed as a site for low-income housing, dreamed of as a spot for a community center, and for the past six years, it has been the subject of plans to create an urban farm, parkland, and community garden.

In 2005, the city tried and failed to secure a $1.5 million cleanup grant for the old factory site to enable two community development organizations to take on the urban farming project.

Finally, in early November of last year, the city of Toledo agreed to turn over about six acres of the land to the Lucas County Improvement Corp. which would coordinate the cleanup work and move the farming idea along. The sale, which cost the LCIC $450, was accompanied by $200,000 in federal brownfield cleanup dollars administered by the city.

Nine months later, at the walled-in wasteland where the giant industrial plant once stood, there's no sign anything has changed.

"It's just been sitting there," said 20-year-old Jarmod Malcolm Woodler, who one recent afternoon sat on his aunt's porch a few houses down from the site.

He said he's grown up looking at the abandoned property and remembers children throwing rocks through windows of the old factory before it was torn down a few years ago. The plant, which cast molten metal into parts for cars and other machinery, closed in 1991.

"It's been there for a long, long, long time," Mr. Woodler said. "They've done nothing with it since it was torn down … It makes the neighborhood look bad."

But LCIC and city officials insist change is on the way.

Ford Weber, LCIC president and CEO, said the cleanup stalled initially because of winter weather and now a team is working to assess the extent of contamination at the site and devise a remediation plan.

"This was a heavy industrial site that began operation even before the 1900s, so there are some parts of the site that have some serious environmental issues that need to be dealt with carefully," Mr. Weber indicated. "We had to wait until the end of winter to really take a study as to what the remediation program should look like and what the best strategy will be."

That study of contaminants and a remediation proposal for the site are now completed, said Joel Mazur, brownfield redevelopment officer for the city. He explained that, although LCIC has the grant to coordinate cleanup, the city has remained involved in the project and hired private consultants Hull and Associates to do the environmental assessment and plan for the site for $17,500.

He said the reason the LCIC received the grant money was because the city cannot give funds to itself.

Bill Burkett, senior project manager at Hull and Associates, said evaluating the land with its contaminants and remaining foundational structures has been a lengthy, complex process. The company had to test soil, drill through concrete slabs, and take groundwater samples, among other things. The area is polluted with asbestos, lead, and volatile organic compounds, Mr. Mazur added.

A cleanup plan by Hull and Associates will soon be submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency for approval, Mr. Mazur stated. If accepted, the plan will be subject to public comments for a 30-day period and could go through further modifications, he said. After that, the LCIC must solicit bids from contractors to do the cleanup.

With so many steps to follow, it could take until the end of the year for site work to start, Mr. Mazur indicated.

For Toledo Councilman D. Michael Collins, who voted against the grant allocation to LCIC last year, the time it has taken to get the project started is discouraging. He said he voted against giving money to the organization because he believes the project is outside LCIC's mandate and they have no experience in cleaning brownfield sites.

"It was completely outside the scope of them to acquire the property and remediate it for urban agricultural development," Mr. Collins said. "I'm still hoping against hope that this gets done but seeing as it's been a year and nothing's happened my optimism has pretty much dissipated."

The councilman also questioned why the city still is assisting financially with the project by hiring Hull and Associates when the land now belongs to the LCIC.

The pace of the process may be frustrating to some, but redevelopment of polluted sites is time consuming, said E. Michelle Mickens, executive director of the Toledo Community Development Corp.

Ms. Mickens was an instigator of initial plans to turn the Doehler-Jarvis site into an urban farm, but after attempts to get grants for it failed she turned her attention to a smaller plot of land down the street. That site, now called the "Fernwood Growing Center," is a blossoming urban farm that has taken about two years to get going and even longer to win community support, she said.

"Development takes time," Ms. Mickens explained. "It's a very tenuous process."

Mr. Weber, the LCIC chief, said the agency doesn't know who will actually farm the land once it is cleaned up. Because of its history and location in an economically distressed neighborhood adjacent to railroad tracks, the property cannot fetch much value as real estate, he said.

But Mr. Mazur said ultimately the land could be a source of fresh produce and employment for the community, while alleviating blight.

"At the end of the day, once this agricultural site is built it will create jobs for people in the neighborhood and other people in the city," he said. "It's one bite at a time."

Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett or 419-724-6272.

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