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Marion not eager to buy dump site

Staff writer

Marion City Council gave the brush-off Monday to a proposition that the city spend $105,000 to buy 16 acres of land, much of it in a floodplain, behind the defunct Building Center at 143 W. Main St.

Still, the turndown may not be the council’s last word on the property, a portion of which the city has used as a dump for rock, gravel, dirt, and dried asphalt from street reconstruction.

Building Center co-owner John Wheeler, who repeatedly has declined to be interviewed about the recent closing of his business, approached several council members about selling the land.

Mayor David Mayfield initially objected to discussing the question.

“I don’t think we can even address this,” he said. “He hasn’t contacted me.”

Others explained that the discussion would be preliminary, merely to determine whether there was interest in developing a formal proposal.

That interest did not appear.

“I just don’t know that I see a lot of benefit,” council member Kevin Burkholder said.

Council member Jerry Kline added: “I don’t think the city has any business getting in that.”

Still, their categorical turndown may end up being something else.

Two weeks ago, when questioned about proposed increases in the city’s budget, council members were told that almost 9 mills in property taxes were being set aside to pay for covering with 3½ feet of soil the material that the city had dumped on the property.

At the time, it was stated that this was a state requirement. In fact, as city administrator Brogan Jones explained Monday, the state does not require covering the dumped debris.

“We do not have to go through and do anything different than what we’ve already done,” Jones said. “We don’t have to go in and put 36 inches of topsoil. . . . This permit was just to use that site for that purpose.”

Council member Ruth Herbel responded: “So basically we’re saving the $93,000 that you told us about at the last meeting.”

Jones agreed, but quickly added: “If we can get him to release us from our contract.”

Before the city began dumping material, it signed a contract with Wheeler, who at the time was a council member, agreeing to cover all dumped material with not just 36 inches of soil but a full 42 inches.

The contract is not part of a state permit issued to allow dumping in what otherwise is a ponding area, set aside to help control flooding.

It’s unclear whether the original contract with Wheeler will remain in force if he, as he indicated to individual council members, has turned the property over to a bank after it declined to provide his business additional credit.

Essentially, what Wheeler might have been offering was to sell the property for $105,000 but, in doing so, waive a requirement that the city spend $90,000 to $110,000 covering up what it dumped there.

Exactly how the debris might be covered also poses several challenges.

The state permit for the dumping forbids raising the ground level by more than six feet. Adding 3½ feet of soil on top of material already dumped might violate that requirement.

The area could be excavated, the debris buried, and soil from the excavation used to cover it. However, the parcel may be part of the secretive Marion Archeological District, site of prehistoric aboriginal settlements dating from 1,000 to 9,000 years ago. Excavation could be restricted.

The parcel itself is historic by more recent standards. Once known as Billings Park, it was the center of much outdoor activity before development of Central Park and includes the remaining walls of the first stone building constructed in Marion, dating to the 1860s.

In other business Monday, the council delayed for two weeks action on proposed revisions in downtown sign requirements. A transcript of a planning and zoning commission hearing on the matter will be distributed to council members before their next meeting.

Last modified Sept. 21, 2023

 

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