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$400K will help remove contaminated dirt from West Haymarket

$400K will help remove contaminated dirt from West Haymarket

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Alter Metal Recycling

A Burlington Northern Santa Fe locomotive rolls past the pile at Alter Metal Recycling in this March 2012 file photo.

Contaminated dirt will be pulled out of the old industrial sites in the West Haymarket in preparation for development into some type of commercial space where people can "work, live and play."

Lincoln is getting $400,000 from the federal government to help clean up the former Alter Metal Recycling scrap yard at 550 N St. and the former Watson-Brickson lumberyard at 660 N St.

Both properties are on eight acres south of the new Pinnacle Bank Arena and related projects. Much of the area was once a rail yard.

The Alter site is polluted with volatile organic compounds, heavy metals and polychlorinated biphenyls, stemming from bulk oil storage and railroad operations, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 7 office in Lenexa, Kan.

The Watson-Brickson site once was used to manufacture gas by burning coal during the early 1900s. It is contaminated with volatile organic compounds and heavy metals, the agency said.

The $400,000, awarded in two grants to the West Haymarket Joint Public Agency, are from the EPA's Brownfields Assessment, Revolving Loan Fund and Cleanup Grants Program.

The federal agency gives grants to help communities clean up brownfields.

"We want to take the properties to their highest and best use," said Dan Marvin, project coordinator for the joint public agency.

Scrap metal piles on both sites have been cleaned up and a few buildings still stand in the area. Marvin said the space may be used for construction parking while the city looks for a developer.

Lincoln is among nine cities and two state agencies in Region 7 (Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Kansas) that will share in more than $4.5 million in brownfield grants.

Ernie Castillo, a planner with Lincoln's Urban Development Department, said this is Lincoln's second brownfield grant from the EPA. The first was used to assess contamination and pave the way for development at the former Misle car dealership near 48th and O streets.

Cleanup at the West Haymarket sites won't begin until the city develops a work plan with the EPA, Castillo said. The money should become available in September, and the sites cleaned up within 24 months.

"At this time, I don't think there are any groundwater issues," he said. "Mainly, there are soil contaminants."

The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality will oversee the cleanup. Mike Felix, supervisor of the state agency's remediation section, said it will be up to the city to determine what contaminants are present and implement a plan.

Just how much contamination is cleaned up hinges on how the site is developed. Once the work is completed to DEQ's satisfaction, the state will send a letter removing the city's liability for environmental problems.

The city already has spent about $3.25 million on environmental assessment and cleanup on land north of O Street, where the new arena is inching toward completion. Workers dug up about 14,000 cubic yards of dirt from a diesel plume that covered a block near the train station.

The joint public agency originally budgeted about $7.5 million for environmental cleanup work on arena-related land.

Marvin did not know how much of that amount has been spent but he said there is a "significant" amount available to help clean up the two new sites, noting that the $400,000 in federal money probably won't be enough.

 Reach Algis J. Laukaitis at 402-473-7243 or


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Nancy Hicks reports on Lincoln city government, but she’s been following the leaders of local and state government for more than 40 years.

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"The scrap flows," says Ronak Shah of  Alter Metal Recycling, standing in the shadow of a 700-ton mountain of metal. "It's an amazing truism of life." Soon, all of this will be gone, scraped clean and replaced by something shiny and new and connected to the city's arena project.

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