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City Council approves motion to accept donation of old Valspar property

Picayune’s City Council approved a motion to accept the donation of property formerly occupied by Valspar during Tuesday’s meeting.

Last week, two Councilors expressed concern about adopting that property with out conducting a more comprehensive study of the property and sampling of the underlying soil due to possible contamination.

But during Tuesday’s meeting only one Councilor voted against the matter.

Before making that motion, city attorney Nathan Farmer was asked to share some information about the property in question. Farmer said that during discussions with a representative of MDEQ, he was informed that the city of Picayune would be protected from liability because the parcels involved are considered victim property, but later said the city could face some sort of liability due to creosote contamination in the ground water due to seepage from the adjacent Superfund site. The property received the victim property designation because of the bleeding occurring from the Superfund site’s groundwater, which is contaminated with creosote. While the likelihood of a suit being filed against the city is small, Farmer said the liability protections are not absolute, so the city could face a lawsuit if certain conditions are not upheld.

“There is risk I’m not going to lie about that. They all know that,” Farmer said during a phone interview for clarification.

In response to the seepage from the Superfund site, treatment wells were installed at the former Valspar site for monitoring and treatment.

While a phase I environmental study was conducted last year, Farmer said the city needs to conduct a new one because it is older than 6 months, so a new one is needed to show the city has put forth due diligence to protect itself from liability. If all goes as planned, the property could be deemed a brownfield site, making it eligible for grant funding to help cover the expense of cleaning any contamination that might be found outside of the groundwater leakage from the adjacent superfund site.

Councilor Wayne Gouguet asked if a phase II test would be part of the process, which would include testing the soil for potential contamination. Farmer said the cost to conduct a phase II test could be between $15,000 and $50,000 and the city might qualify for financial assistance from MDEQ if it can be deemed a brownfield site.

Farmer said the Council could just accept the donation and then immediately lease it and in the meantime seek the phase II test and brownfield designation. The big question in the matter is whether some form of contamination is disturbed at the property, such as lead or chromium, which would require cleanup.

Councilor Tammy Valente asked why the city has to accept the property now when she was informed that the “current or future” owner of the site could request all of the precautionary steps outlined earlier in the meeting prior to accepting ownership of the property. She also expressed concern about losing the tax dollars the property has generated in the past now that the city owns it.

City Clerk Amber Hinton said the various parcels involved in the property generate a total of about $18,962 in city ad valorem taxes annually, $30,068 in school district taxes and $26,923 in county taxes.

In the end every councilor and Mayor Ed Pinero Jr., voted to accept the property, except for Valente.