Clean up the mess

The Chester County Council has a message for those who request demolition permits for abandoned mills and other large structures: Take what you can use, but clean up the mess.

The council recently gave initial approval to an ordinance that requires people seeking a permit to destroy a large structure to promise to clean up the site when they have finished. The ordinance is designed to halt the pillaging of mill sites for valuable materials while leaving the refuse behind.

The county has had a problem with people harvesting items such as old bricks, wooden beams, flooring and other materials that can be used in restoring old homes or outfitting restaurants, offices and other retail buildings -- then leaving a mess behind. Often, according to County Supervisor Carlisle Roddey, the pillagers will abandon the demolition once they have taken what they wanted, claiming they can't afford to finish the job.

That, of course, leaves the county holding the bag. It also has left county officials with a sense of being bamboozled.

"We're all sick of it, and we should have done something years ago ... I've had it, and I'm in a raise-hell mode," Councilman Alex Oliphant said.

One prime example of this practice is the old Gayle Mill property near Chester. The mill sat empty for years after it was closed by Springs Industries in 1976. The property was sold twice and was left in ruins by new owners.

The county agreed to take ownership of the property with the goal of cleaning it up. But it took more than 20 years to get grants necessary to remove the blight.

We think the county is taking a sensible approach in requiring a cleanup pledge before granting demolition rights. If people want the valuable parts of old buildings, they need to take responsibility for what the site looks like when they leave.

Chester County has a sensible plan to crack down on those who pillage and leave.