Council gets status update on abandoned plant

Columbia City Councilman Don Sexton updated the rest of the Columbia City Common Council on progress regarding an abandoned property in town that has the attention of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.The former Dana plant, located at 643 W. Ellsworth Street on the west side of Columbia City is under scrutiny by Indiana’s environmental protection agency.According to a letter sent to the mayor and the city council, IDEM is willing to enter into an agreement with the city and Novae Corporation, a prospective buyer of the property, to map out each party’s responsibility in cleaning up the site which allegedly is contaminated with hazardous materials or pollutants.A group known as the Brownfield’s Committee was formed to study various local properties that are “unutilized or underutilized,” according to Project Coordinator Lori Shipman.“These types of properties typically have environmental issues,” she said.The former Dana plant is no exception.As reported by Sexton Tuesday night, the proposed “agreed order” between IDEM, Novae Corp. and the city would remove the city from any liability and put only limited responsibility on the prospective buyer.The bulk of the liability still lies with Dana, despite that company being at least twice removed from ownership.The property was purchased in 2007 by C.F. Gomma, an Italian-based company that didn’t stay in Columbia City long.“They basically stripped the copper out of the building and disappeared overnight,” said Shipman.The sudden move left scores of workers jobless.The county’s Geographic Information System (GIS) site has the current owner listed as Columbia Brown, LLC.Sexton said Columbia City is not alone in dealing with this kind of situation.“Angola’s been through this, Connorsville, Ind.’s been through this,” Sexton said. “It’s (the agreement) basically so that the community doesn’t get stuck with what this corporation left behind.”A fund was set aside as part of a bankruptcy agreement by Dana that provides money earmarked for environmental cleanup at the company’s abandoned sites.The funds are overseen by IDEM.“A lot of people in the community earned a great living at that plant,” said Shipman.Shipman added that the local Brownfields Committee was made possible by a pair of grants totalling $400,000 through the United States Environmental Protection Agency. One grant is designed to finance the cleanup of hazardous substances while the other helps to pay for the cleanup of petroleum products. The Dana site is one of several properties that the committee is looking at, according to Shipman.She said a Brownsfield Forum is scheduled for Nov. 17 at 7 p.m. in the City Hall council chambers.The public is invited to the forum and residents are welcome to voice concerns as well as point out potential properties they feel are unused or underused or possibly contaminated.