The owner of the former Municipal Electric Light Plant wants to tear down the blighted building in Hagerstown’s East End just as badly as city officials do, he said last week.
David Harshman, the property’s owner since 1996, said on Dec. 26 that he and his demolition contractor, Bud Williams of Lycoming Supply based in Williamsport, Pa., have put in “hundreds of hours” in the past few years trying to make the project work.
“We’re not here to make controversy at all,” Williams said. “All’s we want is ... the people to know that things have been being done. It’s not apparent. You can’t see it ... but it has been being done.”
Williams, who is the general contractor and is coordinating efforts to clean up the 2.96-acre property, said the project is “so interlocked,” with the involvement of two engineering firms and two other contractors responsible for remediating asbestos and contaminated water inside the building.
“This isn’t a project where you’re going to have a demolition contractor come in and do the whole project,” he said.
City officials maintain that tearing down the MELP is a priority, but haven’t been able to make much progress in striking a deal with Harshman in the past 14 months.
Harshman and Williams said they are much further along in the planning process than the public, and possibly even the new Hagerstown City Council members, are aware.
“We have one more thing to clear, and that’s the environmental end as far as water treatment,” Williams said. “We feel that we’re probably the better part of half way through this hurdle. It’s the final negotiations ... we want a lump sum price for the environmental.”
Harshman said the two engineering firms — Frederick, Seibert and Associates, Inc. and Triad Engineering Inc. — have been paid for their services, for site planning and environmental testing, respectively.
Additionally, the asbestos abatement contract has been agreed upon and is ready to be signed, he said.
The main holdup for the project is securing a firm figure for the cost of removing from the building’s basement an estimated 600,000 gallons or more of water, which has “low-level” contaminates from metals and oils, Williams said.
Cost estimates from contractors willing to tackle the job have come in using a cost-per-gallon approach.
But Harshman said the cost-per-gallon quotes are unsettling because about 50 gallons of water per minute, according to his estimates, continue to seep into the building, following the rise and fall of the water table in that area, which makes it hard to pinpoint an actual cost for the filtration job.
A firm lump sum figure is needed to be able to finalize an overall plan and formally request the funding contribution from the city, Harshman said.
Williams said it would not “shock him” if the overall project cost came in around the $2 million range considering all of the contracts.
Harshman estimated the city would need to kick in about $1 million — to be paid upon completion and cleanup of the property — to make the project a go. No city money would be required up front, he said.
“Their donation is for their environmental issues,” Harshman said. “That’s what that’s for, and we’re giving them the properties.”
But to get a firm commitment from the city, Harshman said he understands that all the other numbers would need to be firm as well.
The city has previously offered $750,000 as a contribution toward the demolition and cleanup of the property, according to an email from the city’s Director of Utilities Michael Spiker on Wednesday.
Spiker said funding sources for a contribution include $500,000 in unappropriated Capital Improvement Program money and $250,000 from the upcoming bond issue.
The city’s most recent offer came before the issues of abating the contaminated water came to the forefront, Harshman said.
After the water is filtered and decontaminated, it could be disposed of by dumping it into the nearby Antietam Creek or other waterways, but various permits would have to be obtained from the Maryland Department of Environment to do so, Williams said.
Harshman said MDE officials have told him they would be OK with the cleaned water being put back into Hagerstown’s sanitary sewer system.
However, the city’s ordinances would not allow that, he said, which might be another potential problem that could prove costly, especially if the water has to be trucked out for disposal elsewhere.
“Their ordinance says you can’t introduce water into their sewer system,” Williams explained. “And you just have to imagine the sanitary station is just like a cookpot up there. You can only have so much of this or so much of that or you upset the apple cart.
“The city feels, probably along with their engineers, to introduce this much water would not make it right on their end,” he said.
Spiker confirmed Wednesday that the water could not be pumped into the city’s sanitary sewer system based on the ordinance.
Reflecting on the past year, and even prior to that working with the previous mayor and city council, Williams said all of his interactions with the city have been positive, especially with Spiker, who has been the lead on the city’s end.
But a concentrated and concerted effort by all the players involved could put this issue to bed sooner than later, he said.
“It’s going to take a roundtable,” Williams said. “Maybe a couple meetings like that, even after the final numbers are in, to get it all ironed out. But it will get ironed out at that point.”
Spiker discussed the status of the project with the city council on Dec. 11, and is expected to return on Jan. 15 for another update on negotiations.
In his previous discussion with council, Spiker said if a suitable resolution cannot be reached with the owner, the city could seek legal action in the form of condemning the property and taking it by eminent domain.
Mayor David S. Gysberts said he hopes that negotiations with Harshman can be finalized by mid-January.
“It’s definitely a priority,” he said. “I hope (the owners) negotiate in good faith with the staff, so by Jan. 15 there is some kind of resolution to this where we have a direction to go in.”
Once all parties agree to contracts, Harshman said the project, which would result in a clean, backfilled property being turned back over to the city, would take about 14 months to complete.