CONCORD — Governor Maggie Hassan has counted proceeds of $2 million from the sale of the former Laconia State School property on North Main Street as revenue in her 2016-2017 state budget, a proposal that may rekindle the city's interest in acquiring the site.
In 2012, the city offered to purchase the property for $2.16-million, but the state agency in charge did not respond to the offer.
"I would advocate for acquiring the property, if it were offered at its appraised value," Mayor Ed Engler said yesterday.
The property consists of 202 acres bounded by North Main Street to the east, Meredith Center Road and Eastman Road to the north and Ahern State Park to the west and south and divided roughly in half by Right Way Path. Among the 26 buildings on the site, the appraiser found less than a handful salvageable and estimated the cost of demolishing the rest at more than $2 million.
The terms of the proposed transaction are stipulated in House Bill 2, the so-called "trailer bill" that accompanies the biennial budget, which directs the commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services to execute the sale. The transaction would be subject to the requirements of RSA 4:40, the statute governing the sale or lease of state property, which stipulates that it must be first be offered to the municipality or county where it is located.
At the same time, the governor seeks to exempt the transaction from the review and approval of both the Council on Resources and Development, a panel representing executive departments and agencies, and the Long Range Capital Planning and Utilization Committee, consisting of four members of the Senate and four members of the House of Representatives, as the law requires.
The city mounted an effort to acquire the property soon after the closure of the Lakes Region (prison) Facility in 2009. In 2011, the Legislature directed the New Hampshire Department of Administrative Services (DAS) to offer the entire site to the city for "not less than $10-million" and, if by June 30, 2012 the city failed to accept the offer, to offer it to Belknap County "at fair market value" with a deadline of August 15, 2012. If neither the city nor the county purchased the property, it would be put on the open market.
However, the appraisal prepared for the state by the Bureau of Right-of-Way of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation placed the value of the site at $2.16 million. In April, 2012 the City Council authorized City Manager Scott Myers and City Councilor Matt Lahey to offer to purchase the property, together with the Robbie Mills Sports Complex, an abutting 10.2-acre parcel owned by the state and leased to the city for 99 years, for $2.16-million.
When the did not acknowledge the offer, Lahey wrote to Governor John Lynch and the five Executive Councilors reaffirming it. "The city is ready, willing, and able to acquire this property, to address the environmental issues and to return the property to productive use, he wrote, asking the Governor and Council to place the offer on its agenda and "act favorably". Again the state did nothing and the city withdrew its offer.
The property has been for sale on the open market since 2012, but the state has received no offers. The value of the property is depreciated by environmental contamination at the site. Unlike the state, which was responsible for the contamination, the city is eligible for federal funding to clean up the property.
In 2010, Credere Associates, LLC of Westbrook, Maine completed a Phase I environmental assessment of the property, which identified likely risks to the natural environment and human health primarily in and around the buildings. Credere found that soil and groundwater have been contaminated by petroleum and other hazardous materials from leaking storage tanks, floor drains and waste disposal at several locations. Moreover, there are indications that the same contaminants, along with PCBs, pesticides, insecticides and coal ash, may have reached soil and groundwater at another half dozen places. Records shows that sewer treatment on the property included a chlorination plant with associated sludge beds. Furthermore, the age and condition of the buildings suggest that asbestos, lead paint, mold and PCBs are likely present in many of them.
The city need not own the property to apply for funding to commission an environmental assessment. But, it must own the property and not be responsible for the contamination to apply for funding to clean it up.
The Brownfields Cleanup Program administered by the United States Environmental Protection Agency awards grants of up to $200,000 per property parcel for as many as three parcels a year, with a 20-percent local match in cash or kind. By subdividing the contaminated portion of the site into three separate parcels, the city could apply for as much as $1.2 million in a two- year period to fund clean up at the site.
In addition, the EPA provides grants of up to $1 million to municipalities and economic development corporations, like the Belknap Economic Development Council, to capitalize revolving loan funds, which provide low or no-interest loans to for-profit and no-profit entities for clean up operations.
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