|The Alaskana Bookstore|
Photos by Zaz Hollander
Since 2008 or so, the City of Palmer has been trying to buy up the checkerboard of properties that make up the Matanuska Maid block. Voters two years ago very narrowly OK’d the city spending up to $3 million in a bond to buy the properties.
Where do things stand today?
Not too far along, given the pollutants in the ground at as-yet unknown levels. Oh, also the fires that consumed first one warehouse, then the other on the 9-acre site. And apparently too-low offers on six of seven parcels.
As community development director Sandra Garley tells it, the city had appraisals done on all seven properties that make up the site. Seven property owners received offers.
Only one property - the circa-1935 building that houses the Alaskana Bookstore at 564 S. Denali St. - is in the purchase loop. The city executed an agreement there that allows officials onto the property to start doing environmental studies. Even that is just a $5,000 “binder” as Garley calls it, to get a local environmental engineer on site to look at contamination from past uses.
“One thing the council said very clearly when we started the process: ‘We want to know before we buy anything, what is the environmental liability?’” Garley said.
We’re not talking about manure here - no cows. But the original colony garage occupied the property, as did a powerhouse and two warehouses, both now lost to fire. That’s left pesticides and fertilizers, oils from the garage. Some, like oil and gas, tend to evaporate when exposed, Garley said. But chemicals in pesticides and fertilizers linger - it’s just not clear in what amount.
Anybody who buys contaminated property is liable to clean it up under U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations, though the original owner also remains liable.
The city got a $70,000 Brownfields grant from EPA. The agency uses the money to drill holes and sample for contamination. Before they enter any property, the city has to get permission, a la Alaskana Bookstore.
The agency will wait and do sampling on the properties as a group, rather than come up from Seattle to do each site, Garley said.
Meanwhile, city officials are still working on those six other parcels. The biggest and most expensive, at eight acres, is owned by the state Department of Natural Resources through the Agricultural Revolving Loan Fund. The city hopes to do a land swap, Garley said. That hasn’t happened yet. The powerhouse parcel is owned by the Palmer Arts Council. Jeff Johnson owns the parcel with mini-storage warehouses. Attorney Bill Ingaldson owns the warehouse property.
“We’re proceeding slowly which can be frustrating to the property owners but we’re being careful because it’s a huge expense to the city,” Garley said. “There’s an upside but there are some downsides too.”
She expects a report to the city council this month or next.
-- Zaz Hollander