Chester cleanup effort gets boost

CHESTER -- The effort to clean up Chester's gateway gained momentum during the past month as Chester County leaders rapidly picked up the $10,000 needed to pay for environmental tests on two properties they hope to revitalize.

The next hurdles are hiring a firm to perform the tests and determining how local government can acquire the place leaders call the gateway, the area that runs from the end of Lancaster Street, across the railroad tracks and a short distance down Gadsden Street toward downtown.

Where roofs are caving in and piles of brick debris lay, local leaders hope to see baseball fields or parks. They say the land has unlimited options if it's cleared.

Nearly 15 county, city and community leaders met at a luncheon this week to discuss the next steps in cleaning up the two main sites in the gateway: the former Thomas & Howard building and the old Springsteen Mill.

Councilman Alex Oliphant, who is spearheading the gateway movement, said that before any work can take place, environmental studies must be done to assess any possible contamination. Those studies look at such features as asbestos and lead-based paint and cost about $10,000.

About $7,500 will come from the Chester Development Association, and County Supervisor Carlisle Roddey and Mayor Mitch Foster have agreed to find county and city money to cover the remainder of the cost.

"We've got our money, pretty much," Oliphant said.

At the lunch meeting, leaders agreed to contact the property owners, asking if the environmental tests can be conducted. Both landowners have indicated that they want to be paid for their property, but leaders hope the sites can be acquired through other means.

One issue the group is exploring is how local government can obtain the land without having to pay off the numerous liens on the property.

County attorney Joanie Winters said she found an old file that indicated the county had tried to get a federal grant for the Springsteen site, but couldn't because there were so many liens on the property.

While the possibilities are sorted out, leaders will explore bids for the tests.

Oliphant hopes the gateway effort will be a springboard for larger movement to clean up blighted regions in the city and county. He said he's tired of seeing people who are "grossly negligent" with their property.

"It's not fair to the rest of us," he said. "I'm sick of it."