CHESTER -- Nearly a year after Chester County Councilman Alex Oliphant launched a plan to clean up Chester's "gateway," no blighted properties in the area have been removed.
Oliphant said this week that the project to clean up the old Thomas & Howard building and the Springsteen mill site in the gateway is poised to move forward.
But county and city leaders say, although they support the cleanup, their budgets don't include money to pay for the work.
"I'd love to do it," said Chester County Supervisor Carlisle Roddey. "Agreeing with him and paying for it's two different things."
The county already is scrambling to come up with at least $330,000 to avoid a budget shortfall. To keep from dipping into the county's savings, Roddey said he's squeezing money from different departments.
The cash shortage, Roddey said, mostly stems from increased fuel costs and landfill expenses.
The "gateway" refers to an area that runs from the end of Lancaster Street, across the railroad tracks and a short distance along Gadsden Street.
It's the same spot the leaders of industrial companies see when they take S.C. 9 into Chester. It's also the place economic development officials avoid when bringing company leaders to see the city.
The Springsteen and Thomas & Howard sites particularly concern Oliphant. Last year, he organized a group of community leaders who agreed to take steps to clean up the property.
The first step was to pay for environmental tests on the sites. The results of those tests recently came back.
Oliphant said the Thomas & Howard building could essentially be torn down now if someone would pay to haul off the debris. But environmental hurdles at the Springsteen site, such as asbestos, will require several hundred thousand dollars to clean up, Oliphant said, although he didn't know an exact amount.
But the county doesn't have that kind of money. Neither does the city of Chester, said Mayor Mitch Foster.
"Between us, we might could scrape up enough money for (the Thomas & Howard building)," Foster said. "But with the Springsteen plant, of course, that's big dollars."
But Oliphant contends the project is an investment.
The county has lost industry because of the blighted properties, he said. If the community lands one large industrial contract, the tax dollars paid by that company would cover the cleanup cost.
Some leaders hope they can land community grant or loan funds to pay for the project. Oliphant aims to bring local leaders together again in the next two weeks to develop a strategy for raising the cleanup money.
"There are programs out there that can do some of that stuff," he said. "But we have to come up with a plan."