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Public hearing set on possible government coal gas site agreement

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A continuing dilemma lingering before the City of Le Mars appears to be edging its way to possible closure.

The Le Mars City Council Tuesday set Feb. 20 as the date for public hearing on an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department on the clean-up of the old Le Mars Coal Gas site, 331 1st St. NE.

A 49-page document presented to the council Tuesday by City Attorney Joe Flannery indicated terms of the settlement could reach at least $6.8 million.

The pending settlement, a copy of which is to be available to the public at the Le Mars Public Library, stems from a series of negotiations involving all parties, Flannery said, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that in 2003 called for the clean-up, plus the Justice Department, the city of Le Mars, and Mid American Energy.

Under terms of the proposed agreement, the city of Le Mars faces payment of $1.5 million in clean-up response costs plus additional interest with payment to be made in three equal installments, the first of which is for $500,000, plus possible interest within 60 days of settlement agreement or on before July 31, 2007.

An additional $500,000 would be paid on or before April 22, 2008 with a third payment of a similar amount, with possible interest on April 22, 2009.

Mid-America Energy has agreed to pay $3.1 million in response costs plus an additional sum for interest.

Initially acquired by the Le Mars Gas Company in 1898, the coal gas site property was sold in 1942 to Iowa Public Service Company (now Mid America). The property was later sold to C.W. Miller in 1953 with the City of Le Mars to take ownership of the site in 1967. The property is now used by the city for Street Department operations.

City Attorney Flannery says the Justice Department, EPA, and Mid American have already "worked out" terms of the agreement citing it as a "fair" resolution. If the city of Le Mars moves in a similar direction, Flannery said, the settlement goes to a Federal judge for a final determination.

City costs for possible settlement, Flannery added, reflect the city's operation in the clean-up effort and its acknowledgement of liability in the matter. The city is also being compensated in the agreement, he said, for dirt brought in to complete the clean-up as well as for the inconvenience of temporarily moving the Street Department while the work was underway, proceeding with recommended well removal, and water testing which is now nearing completion.

"I feel the proposed agreement is a very fair one," Flannery said. "It's been a long negotiation period. Costs were dropped significantly because of the city's cooperation, along with cooperation of the other parties involved. I feel what we presently have is the result of people working together."

The coal gas site first came to the EPA's attention in 2003 when the EPA called for the removal of potential contamination sources on the property, asking for steps to be taken to remove possibility of contaminated soil or water stemming from gas holders, tar wells and oil tanks.

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