FARRELL Soil sinks housing proposal

An agency fears that whatever might be buried on-site could require an expensive cleanup.
FARRELL, Pa.-- The Mercer County Community Action Agency has scrapped plans to build a 10-unit apartment complex on the former city ash and salt storage site on Hamilton Avenue.
Ronald Errett, chief executive officer, said Monday that environmental concerns with the site could make it cost-prohibitive to build there.
The agency still wants to build the complex, designed to house people suffering from severe mental illness who can function independently, in Farrell and is hoping the city can come up with an alternative site.
The agency's developer is coming into town today to consider other locations, Mark Yerskey, city zoning officer, told city council Monday.
Yerskey said it appears the agency would have to do a phase two environmental study of the original site on the east side of Hamilton Avenue between Union and Federal streets and that could be too expensive.
The agency already knew it would have to put its apartments on concrete slabs atop concrete pilings sunk through at least 23 feet of bad soil. That's how deep the ashes and other old fill materials are on the site, he said.
Soil tests
Errett, contacted by telephone after the meeting, said the agency hired an environmental consulting firm to do a phase one examination of the site, which involved testing surface soils and doing minor test borings.
The consultant came back with a recommendation to do a much more extensive phase two environmental study that would cost between $10,000 and $20,000, Errett said.
The dangerous part about a phase two study is that, should it turn up contaminants that the federal government deems hazardous, the agency could be held responsible for an expensive cleanup of the site, he said.
Rather than take that risk, the agency has decided it won't try to build on that location but has informed the city it still wants to build the project in Farrell, he said.
The U.S. Department of Housing & amp; Urban Development has set aside a grant of $714,000 to cover the bulk of the cost, and the agency has secured $45,300 from the Federal Home Loan Bank and is seeking a $42,000 grant from the state's Brownfields Initiative to complete the financing.
That latter funding source may no longer be available for a different site.
The agency had hoped to start construction this spring and have the apartments ready for occupancy by the end of the year. That timetable may no longer be valid, Errett said.

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