North block pollutant-free

Published 8:49 am Saturday, June 7, 2008

As part of site preparation for the jail and justice center, soiling tests for pollutants came up clean on the north block.

According to community development director Craig Hoium, the city won’t do another round of testing for contaminants unless given reason during future prep work.

“If there gets to be a time during soil correction … and something suspicious is found, we would then investigate further,” Hoium said.

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The city had already completed environmental mitigation on the southerly block, also known as the Usem’s block, with clear results as well. Soil borings were taken from the Beltone parking lot, 212 Fourth Ave. N.E., as well as several other sites this spring by Rochester-based American Engineering Testing Inc., which submitted its findings late May, Hoium said.

According to fire department documents, gas tanks from a closed convenience store were removed decades ago.

Next phase for site preparation of the jail and justice center project, to be built from Second to Fourth Avenue Northeast and Second and Third Street Northeast, are borings to test the consistency of the soil. According to Mower County coordinator Craig Oscarson, the results are in, though he has not seen the report.

The purpose of this testing is twofold, Oscarson said. First, engineers must determine how much soil they must bring in to support the structure. There may also be some soil correction taking place, depending on the proportion of sand, clay and other elements underground.

“The soil has to be such that once the building is constructed, it’s not going to fall apart,” Oscarson said.

He said as the developer’s agreement between the city and county was being designed, the county did four borings to initially assess soil elements.

“Now we’re doing a larger number of borings to determine things more accurately,” Oscarson said.

The developer’s agreement states that the city is responsible for all costs of soil correction for the first five feet underground. Oscarson said the initial assessment suggested that anywhere from two to six feet would likely need work.

The county is also testing well capacity for a possible geothermal system on a third block, known as the Robbin’s block, which is just south of the Usem’s block.

Oscarson said the results of that testing would help determine whether the system would be cost effective; if proved it wouldn’t the county would likely use the area solely for a parking lot.

“I think the intention of the board is to building a parking lot, as well as a geothermal well field,” he said.

If the geothermal won’t work, he added, “I think the board’s intent still is for parking.”

Well testing has hiccuped temporarily, following a cave in of one of the wells two weeks ago. The result is $20,000 in additional costs and a two-week delay, according to county staff.

The jail and justice center, estimated at $32 million, is slated for construction next spring. Site preparation, which includes acquisition, demolition and mitigation, is hoped to conclude Dec. 31. The city, which is responsible for all aspects of site prep, is currently in the process of acquiring multiple businesses and relocating residential tenants on the two blocks.