Bowser Street Fire Provides Lessons Learned to Help City Approach OmniSource Purchase

By Jeff Neumeyer

June 18, 2010 Updated Nov 2, 2007 at 6:12 PM EDT

Ten years ago, a roaring fire at a Fort Wayne tire warehouse forced evacuations and left the City with a contaminated property in need of cleanup.

It's a story that may help calm taxpayer fears as the City contemplates acquiring a different piece of land with some history of pollution.

Results from soil testing on the old OmniSource property, where the city wants to launch a major downtown development, are being kept secret.

The OmniSource owners permitted the testing, so long as the City wouldn't release the findings.

Mayoral Candidate Matt Kelty and two City Council members say the information needs to be made public in case an expensive clean-up looms.

But Mayor Graham Richard's administration believes concerns are being overblown.

When the Bowser Street tire fire erupted in 1997, the City had a mess on its hands.

The City took possession of the tainted property, and spearheaded restoration.

Greg Leatherman/Fort Wayne’s Deputy Director of Development: " The City of Fort Wayne was well suited to test it and clean it up with partnerships from IDEM and EPA, which were already standing by to help. So, there was almost no testing done on the site prior to taking ownership of the property. There was some, but not very much, we certainly didn't know what was there."

Leatherman says the testing being done on the OmniSource property puts the City way ahead of what it faced with the Bowser site, and as a municipality, the City can tap into state and federal funding for cleanup costs, to minimize any burdens to taxpayers.

On the downside, the City was given the Bowser site, and it figures to have to pay for the Omni Source land.

The City has an option to buy the property for $4.3 million.

But if testing suggests a lot of cleanup will be required, that could drive down the sale price significantly.

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