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For nearly 25 years, the city of Hastings has been in a legal battle it cannot win. It has been forced to spend millions of dollars cleaning up a mess it did not create.
In an in–depth report 'Grounded Concerns', News 5's Adam Lefkoe checks in on where the situation stands.
The old Hastings police station on West 2nd Street has been quiet for nearly a decade. But there is a lot of noise in its backyard.
This is the main clean–up site for the city of Hastings.
Back in 1894, a company was manufacturing coal gas here to fuel lights and power the city.
"But the byproduct from this process was really messy. It was a black tar - a goo," said Hastings City Attorney Mike Sullivan.
Historical documents said this goo was dumped and even injected into the ground.
"You kind of wonder what they were thinking?" Sullivan said.
The process ended in 1931. The city took over the land in '42. More than 40 years later, with new federal regulations, the EPA told the city, it had to pay to clean up the mess - one it did not make.
"It is like driving through the intersection of 4th and Saunders, an open intersection, no street signs, but a year later they put a stop sign up and send you a ticket. 'Well, we put a stop sign there and you drove through it a year ago'," said Sullivan.
With an estimated price tag of $32 million city leaders are still taken aback.
"This is a jail sentence for the city of Hastings that has never ended. It is a life sentence. We have got to figure out a way to get this thing finished," said Hastings Mayor Vern Powers.
After being on the case for 24 years, it is a reaction City Attorney Mike Sullivan has grown accustomed to.
"Most people see a big problem and they say 'I just want this to go away'. I mean I have heard that from several mayors and a number of council members. And it just cannot go away, it is such a large deal," said Sullivan.
The EPA said it is conscious of the city's situation.
"We are asking the city to make a contribution based on its ability to pay. And we have economists look at all the financial data and we make a determination based on what the city's ability to pay is," said EPA Attorney Audrey Asher.
The city began pumping and cleaning water in '97. The groundwater has made serious progress, but the economics still seem bleak.
This cleaning system cost $14 million. The EPA wants $18 million more in upgrades. This is not an option.
So the area that once powered the city has left its leaders powerless to litigation.
The second street sub site was put on the National Priorities List in 1986.
The EPA is federally mandated to clean the area.
City Leaders said it could take up to four years before upgrades are installed.
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