By Adam Strunk
NEWTON—The old Dillons building at 314 N. Main will come down in the first quarter of next year, if all goes according to plan.
“We’re trying to get it at least down to ground level,” City Engineer Suzanne Loomis said.
The building has long been slated for demolition since the city bought the property in 2015 for $475,000 to build a police station in 2015. Those plans changed, and in the years since then, the lease on the property for Dollar General was not renewed, and the property has sat empty.
The property now plays a central role in city plans to develop downtown and prepare for a possible passenger rail extension and layover for Amtrak. An infrastructure bill recently became law that allocates the money through competitive grants to pay for such a rail extension.
The city plans to clear the property and issue a request for proposals of redevelopment.
But there is a hurdle: the site has soil pollution, which will have to get cleaned up for redevelopment to occur.
A Kansas Department of Health and Environment report in 2017 put the responsibility of the hydrocarbon pollution on BNSF, which owns the adjacent rail yard.
The city wants to get the soil concerns handled before looking for potential suitors to redevelop the property.
“People could redevelop the property now,” Loomis said but explained that, from the city side, they didn’t think someone would want to deal with managing the mitigation agreement with the railroad or have to deal with the additional work that the mitigation would cause.
It’s long been reported that BNSF had negotiated a voluntary mitigation agreement to deal with the pollution with KDHE.
We reached out to KDHE to figure out what that agreement entailed and if there was a timeline on when such clean-up would take place.
It turns out that the agreement is to address impacts of the entire rail yard, not specifically the property the city wishes to develop.
“There is no agreement in regards to that,” said Deanna Ross, unit manager for voluntary cleanup. “Their agreement with KDHE is voluntary, and it addresses an area that is impacted by any releases from them […] It sets a system in place that they will do investigation, provide a proposal with remedial options to address the site,” she explained.
She said that the agreement has been in place since 2001.
As for any mitigation of pollution, she said that there has not been a submitted proposal for that action.
She said the plan is voluntary, and addressing the entire Newton rail yard and pollution caused by it is complex.
“A site like this is very large, with different plumes,” she explained.
She did say that the state has been in conversations with both the city and BNSF about the site.
“We’ve worked with both parties and worked to get agreements between the two parties and as far as how they’re going to address contamination once and when they get to working on that site,” she said.
On the city side, Loomis said that the city continues to be in communication with BNSF about the site, and they’ve been amicable in the exchanges.
She said that BNSF wouldn’t go in and clean out the property. Instead, the city would put the demolition and the following cleanup out to bid.
“What I’m doing is putting together a set of bid specs for a demolition that would include taking out the footings, and any soil disturbed at the process gets put to the side, and BNSF has to dispose of it,” she said.
Loomis said that the pollution at the site is due to groundwater runoff and that with hydrocarbons, sometimes the ground can be opened up, allowing some of the pollutants to evaporate off.
After the building is gone, any footings that soaked up hydrocarbon chemicals removed, and the soil aired out, the city would then move toward looking for submissions to redeveloping the site.
“We’re shooting for the spring,” she said about the demolition and project moving forward.