Originally created 03/03/00

Site owner rejects aid for cleanup



The new owner of one of Augusta's most notorious eyesores isn't ready to allow a federally funded environmental assessment to proceed at his property.

"Grant money? We don't need it, so just give it back," said Mike Ballard, who bought the defunct Goldberg Brothers junkyard from a bankruptcy trustee in December.

Mr. Ballard met Thursday with the Augusta Brownfields Commission to discuss the fate of a $200,000 federal grant earmarked for environmental studies on the site to determine future cleanup needs.

Although a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge gave the commission permission to enter and study the site, the new owner was unwilling -- at least for now -- to extend the same permission.

Mr. Ballard, who paid $5,000 for the parcel on Dan Bowles Road, said he is cleaning the area on his own and has spent more than $100,000 already.

"I ain't stopping till it's smooth as glass," he said.

The garbage on the surface is just part of the problem, said Alexandra Cleary, Superfund program manager for the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

The site, she said, is contaminated with lead, arsenic, PCBs and other toxics and is listed on the state Hazardous Site Inventory list for evaluation and cleanup.

Mr. Ballard and others with connections to the property bear potential liability for problems associated with toxic waste that may be found in the area, she said.

Mr. Ballard said he may reconsider the commission's request to study the area after he finishes removing the hundreds of tons of garbage left behind by decades of scrap and salvage.

"You can't study it when you can't see the ground," he said. "Let me get it cleaned up."

But City Administrator Randy Oliver warned that disturbing the mountains of scrap could spread harmful materials throughout nearby neighborhoods.

Charles Utley, the commission's chairman, noted there is much more at stake than the extent of contamination on the Goldberg site.

Nearby residents, he said, have wondered for years what sort of toxic threats lie on the property, which is just beyond many backyard fences.

"This study is all the hope these people have for answers to their questions," Mr. Utley said. "They want to know what's in the ground, what's in the water. They need to know."

Mr. Ballard said he may reconsider once he progresses with his surface cleanup plans.

Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119.