Some good news has arrived for the cleanup of the former SK Hand Tool property on Hopkins Street in Defiance County’s Richland Township.
An additional $800,000 has been promised from the state’s new “brownfield” remediation funds, according to Christina Deehr of Maumee Valley Planning Organization which administers grant funds on behalf of local governments in five area counties (Defiance, Fulton, Henry, Paulding and Williams).
This is in addition to a $380,000 EPA grant received in 2020 by the county land bank — which owns the SK property — for cleanup work at the site. (The land bank board is composed primarily of public officials, and was formed in 2019 to acquire properties that have fallen into disrepair or are vacant, with an eye to selling them after remediation efforts.)
Deehr noted that $68,360.81 of the EPA grant had been spent as of July 1, but because this grant would not complete the project, the land bank sought the state brownfield money.
This will allow the county to move forward on a cleanup effort that had slowed over the last year or so.
The property stood idle for a number of years after SK declared bankruptcy in 2010 and the factory there — once a manufacturer of hand tools — closed. Weeds and trees sprung up outside the building while the unattended buildings fell into disrepair and became a big eyesore along Hopkins Street.
This condition continued for some years until it was acquired by the land bank for purposes of cleanup. A southern Ohio contractor (Warrior Excavating of Jackson) subsequently was to be given title to the land following cleanup and removal of the old factory.
Much of this effort, which began in early 2020, was accomplished, including building removal, but Warrior then wanted out of the contract. The land bank obliged by using its funds to buy the property back for $40,000 earlier this year.
Although demolition work was allowed to proceed for most of the factory, environmental “hot spots” on the property requiring more specified remediation than Warrior Excavating could provide remain.
Working through the environmental firm Tetra Tech — based in Cincinnati — the county is awaiting a contract to complete that work. But it is expected that the newly promised grant funds will take care of any additional remediation and removal of the vast amounts of concrete — from the factory’s old floors — that remain.
“This will finish the project off,” said Defiance County Commissioner David Kern, a land bank member. “Tetra Tech is going out for bid for the concrete removal, so the concrete will get removed. Then there will be some more sampling done to see if there are any more contaminants that we didn’t know about, and that remediation will have to get done as well.”
According to Kern, the concrete will be crushed following removal, but whether that will be on or off the site has yet to be determined.
After the concrete is removed the site will be filled in, he said, “turned into greenspace and marketed as industrial, so we’re moving along. The money allocated will take care of it, so it should be a fully-funded project. So, we’re excited. It’s definitely good news.”
Deehr noted that “after the successful cleanup, the land bank plans to work with local economic development agencies in efforts to sell the property to a company and bring to new life the lot.”
Kern added that “the only thing that maybe would slow us down is if (environmental) hot spots” were missed or “worse than expected, then we might get a little bit of a delay from EPA.”
The property is zoned for industrial use while many of the surrounding properties — one exception is the warehouse across the railroad tracks to the south — are residential, but the former factory site could not be used for homes without further environmental testing, according to Kern.
“If we wanted to switch into residential they would have to redo all the sampling and start over,” he explained.
What if the land bank can’t sell the property? Kern said the county will make a commitment to its maintenance until the land is sold.
“It will be mowed, weed-whacked and trimmed until it’s marketed and sold,” he said.
The property is one of several vacant lots the land bank is maintaining. Others include a lot on Parkview Drive, south of Defiance; a lot on Ralston Avenue in Defiance; and another one on Oris Avenue, south of Defiance.
“We’re in the process of getting bids for all of the properties” from landscaping contractors to take care of them, Kern explained.
The land bank also is looking at acquiring lots in Evansport, Hicksville and Sherwood, he said.