January 20, 2005
An environmental expert has contradicted Tempe’s claim that the only way to clean up hazardous materials at the proposed Tempe Marketplace is by condemning property at the site.
The developer’s own environmental consultant said it’s possible to clean the 200-acre site one property at a time — something the city has said is not possible as it has argued to seize private property for the shopping center.
City officials and developers have argued that they needed the entire site near Rio Salado Parkway and McClintock Drive to effectively clean the area.
But it’s possible to clear the site of environmental dangers if each property owner removed waste from their land, said Phil Lagos, an environmental expert with Brown and Caldwell, a national environmental engineering firm hired by commercial developers Miravista Holdings and Vestar to assess the area.
Lagos said the process is very expensive and may be too costly for the property owners.
"I think that this shows the pattern of untruths that they have been telling all along," said Del Sturman, owner of Desert Composites, a machine shop that the city is threatening to condemn.
The city has said that the need to remove hazardous waste is so pressing that the City Council unanimously approved a resolution authorizing condemnation during its Jan. 6 meeting.
During that meeting, city staff members, developers and environmental experts presented the council with an overview of the environmental problems.
"It may not have come out as clearly as I wanted it to during the presentation, but it is my understanding that any one of the property owners could clean up their land if they wanted," said Councilman Leonard Copple.
Councilman Ben Arredondo said he based his vote on the information presented to him by staff and the developers.
"They told me that they had to clean up the area by putting together all the properties," Arredondo said.
Tempe officials say they don’t have the authority to make private property owners clean up the conditions on their property. And there has been no attempt by the federal or the state government to force individual property owners to comply with environmental standards.
Brad Wilde, president of Miravista Holdings, has bought most of the land, but a group called Tempe Property Owners Against Governmental Theft has vowed to fight the city’s efforts to condemn the remaining land needed for the Marketplace. The group claims 15 members.
Environmental hazards on the 200-acre site include foundry slag, metals, and methane gas, according to state records. Because methane gas is spreading from property to property, city and environmental officials said they must bulldoze the properties to effectively clean up the area.
Engineers from four environmental companies throughout the country contacted by the Tribune said it’s possible to clean the site without demolishing buildings.
"This is not high-tech stuff," said Brad Johnston, vice president of SCS Engineers. "One method is digging a hole in the ground and sucking the gas out." He added that environmental clean-up crews can also dig holes to push out the gas.
Johnston said his firm was able to use methane gas as a power source for a California resort built on top of a landfill. SCS, which is based in Long Beach, Calif., is working on several buildings in Phoenix that were built on landfills.
The area of the planned shopping center was once part of the South Indian Bend Wash Superfund Site, which is a federal program that identifies polluted areas and prioritizes which sites to clean up. The area was added to the federal program in 1983 but taken off in 2003 at Tempe’s request, according to state records.