State lowers risk, says “no further action needed” for clean school office site up at downtown

Submitted by David Whisenant
Monday, November 4th, 2013, 2:58pm
State lowers risk, says "no further action needed" for clean up at downtown school office site

SALISBURY – Will a letter received on Monday by the City of Salisbury give new life to the proposed downtown site for a new central office for the Rowan-Salisbury School System?

City leaders certainly think it should, but at least two County Commissioners now tell WBTV that it doesn’t matter.

The letter, from the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources appears to say that the risk of contamination at the site is considered low.  The letter is a NOFA, or “no further action” letter.

The site is the former home to Arey’s Texaco, and environmental work did have to be done on the property to clean up contamination.

In the letter, written by Hydrogeologist Don Graham in the Mooresville NCDENR office, concludes that “soil contamination does not exceed the lower of the soil to groundwater or residential maximum soil contaminant concentrations.”

As a result, the state is lowering the risk classification from “intermediate to low.”  Further, the letter says that the state “determines that no further action is warranted for this incident.”

In an email to WBTV, City Manager Doug Paris released the following statement:

“Letter of No Further Action. Private funding. Shovel ready and funded architectural design. Great location. 160 space parking lot. Private foundation funding $500,000 in furnishings. $1.25M in annual retail impact for our small businesses in a growing downtown.

A safe workplace for school employees. Overwhelming public hearing support. Civic and business leader support. Rowan County Chamber of Commerce endorsement. Rowan County School Board approval. What’s not to like?

We are excited to have received the letter that Rowan County required, and are even more excited that the County Commission can now approve this site.”

In the past the County Commission has rejected the downtown site, based mostly on the opposition by Chairman Jim Sides.  Sides and a majority of the board have steadfastly refused to support the site citing the fear of contamination.

Last month a prominent Salisbury family offered to build the downtown central school office with private funding.  As a result, neither Rowan County or the City of Salisbury would have to take on debt for the building, according to the City.

In response to the family’s offer, Vice Chairman Craig Pierce of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners stated that a majority of his fellow Commissioners would not approve the proposed location at 329 S. Main Street as a site for the central school office because it lacked a NOFA letter from NCDENR.

The Rowan County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously on Vice Chairman Pierce’s motion to reinstate funding for the project, with the exception of the 329 S. Main Street site, which, at the time lacked a NOFA letter from NCDENR.

“The Rowan County Board of Commissioners does not have the statutory authority to pick the location of the central school office,” according to the City of Salisbury.

“The statutory authority to pick the location rests solely with the Rowan-Salisbury School System Board of Education. A legislative attempt by the Rowan County Board of Commissioners to take that authority away from the Board of Education failed in the General Assembly.

The Rowan County Board of Commissioners has no legal or statutory authority to exclude the downtown location.”

Late Monday afternoon WBTV reached out to each commissioner to see if the letter would make any difference in their consideration of the downtown site.

Chairman Jim Sides and Commissioner Craig Pierce both said that it would not.

My concerns have nothing to do with the environmental condition of the property,” Sides wrote in an email to WBTV.  “However, if the city can proceed without the necessity of county approval, then there is no problem. There are not 3 votes on the BOC to grant any type approval to use that lot for a central office. I do not see that position changing between now and December 2014.”

“The commission has a proposal to the school board at present,” Craig Pierce replied. “We will proceed with that proposal.”

The proposal Pirece refers to is the agreement made by commissioners to fund $6 million for a central office.  The 329 S. Main site is not eligible under that proposal.

The most recent vote by the Rowan-Salisbury School Board was to consider three sites, including the old DSS building on W. Innes, and a lot at Summit Corporate Center, as well as the much debated downtown site.