By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
The Alabama Department of Public Health is apparently stuck with an unusable, 25-acre, $625,000 piece of Montgomery property after discovering the presence of several landfill trenches that would dramatically increase the costs to build a new lab at the site.
The trenches were part of a landfill used by Gunter Air Force Base but were not disclosed on property records or in several environmental studies performed by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management at the location.
“We are now moving forward into the private sector to find a site location that will meet our needs substantially utilizing our present design plans,” ADPH spokeswoman Arrol Sheehan said in an email.
ADPH entered into an agreement with Montgomery officials in July 2015 to buy the property, which is located behind the large Lagoon Park softball complex off the Northern Bypass and was once used as a landfill for the Gunter Air Force Base.
ADPH planned to build a new lab on the site and agreed to begin construction within a year of making the purchase. But in early 2016, after the property was purchased and two ADEM assessments of the land had been completed, ADPH was contacted by the Army Corps of Engineers, which had conducted several environmental tests on the land in the 1990s.
The Corps provided ADPH with additional documentation of the land that showed a number of trenches.
“Those trenches posed issues from a construction and cost standpoint, not from an environmental standpoint as they overlapped with the footprint of the new Lab building,” Sheehan said. “That is why the project is being relocated to another site.”
Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange said ADPH officials contacted his office in October about possibly voiding the purchase agreement or exploring options to swap the location for another within the city.
Strange said he didn’t have the authority to cancel the deal, because the trenches are not an environmental hazard. But his office provided ADPH with five other locations that might work.
In addition, Strange said city officials went with ADPH officials on several occasions to tour the site and explore options to build there that would avoid the trenches.
“The history of this site is not something we ever tried to hide from them or that they were unaware of,” Strange said. “It’s why we allowed them extra time to do a two-phase environmental assessment of it. We are certainly willing to work with them on options to build here. We want this to work out because we’d really love to have the lab here in Montgomery.”
That doesn’t appear to be possible.
Sheehan said in her response that ADPH had examined the five alternative sites provided by Strange’s staff and that none would fit their needs. They are now exploring other options in the private sector.
As for the 25-acre property, ADPH said it plans to either “repurpose it” for other buildings or sell it at a later date.