New beginnings: The HRA almost done with a vital rail yard clean-up project

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 27, 2002

During the past month, a century of pollution and tons of debris have been hauled out of the old railroad yard on 11th Street NE as part of the Austin Housing and Redevelopment Authority's cleanup of the property.

In January, the HRA received a $677,328 grant for the project and since June, cleanup crews have been hard at work. Kermit Mahan, executive director of the HRA, says the contaminated soil is being removed and replaced with clean soil and the property is being prepared for development, which includes removing concrete foundations, old railroad ties, pipes, manhole covers and other pieces of iron and metal debris.

"One thing that really surprised me was the amount of concrete foundations that we've found. We're pulling tons -- and I emphasize 'tons' -- of debris of all kinds," Mahan says. "We want to walk away from the site with a clear conscious, knowing that anything we can grab has been pulled out."

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Most of the contaminated soil and debris has been taken to dumps in Spirit Lake, Iowa and the Twin Cities, he says, adding that when it's clear, "it will really allow the city to market three acres of land in town that already have all the city services."

The HRA and Austin Transportation are in the process of finalizing a contract for redevelopment of part of the land. A spokesman for Austin Transportation says the company plans build a new bus garage and consolidate its services to one site.

Part of the property still is available for development and Mahan hopes "to also find something as nice [as Austin Transportation] to go there … the city really has a valuable and marketable site.

"The property sat there, with nothing going on, and nearly a zero tax base for 25 years that I know of and for good reason … Now, everybody's winning: the environment, the neighborhood and the site is being reclaimed."

Mahan says the cleanup should be finished by mid-August. "We're getting close as we speak."

Amanda L. Rohde can be reached at 434-2214 or by e-mail at