Thursday, January 31, 2008

Milton To Buy Providence?

by Jason Wright /

If Milton City Council gets its wish, Providence Park could be open and ready for recreation in as little as a few months.Well, parts of it, anyway.

Under a tentative plan being worked out by Milton City Attorney Mark Scott and Fulton County Attorney Gerry Clark, the city is looking to purchase Providence Park, which has been closed since January 2004 for groundwater and soil contamination.

Fulton would still be responsible for continued cleanups."We would basically assume maintenance and upkeep responsibilities for the park immediately," said Scott Jan. 11, a day after broaching the subject with Fulton County and Milton's council.Scott said he imagines the deal would include a "nominal payment" for the park and "indemnification of the city," or an agreement not to hold Milton responsible for future legal action or fines.Scott also thinks the city will probably have to fence off the parts of the park still needing cleanup. "From what I understand, with a little bit of maintenance, this is going to be a jewel," he said. "It's just going to do so much for our parks' ability."

But Fulton County Commissioner Lynne Riley said any transfer comes with liability. Fulton holds the park now and has closed it until the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) OKs all clean ups at Providence."We've left it in the city's hands how much liability they wish to assume based on their taking title to land that is under remediation," she said.With Providence closed, the county is protected if someone trespasses and is hurt. Not so if some portions were open, she said."As a representative of Fulton County's interests, I don't want to expose taxpayers to unnecessary costs and risks," she said.

Councilwoman Tina D'Aversa wrote a proclamation that was read at Milton's Jan. 10 council meeting promising to do everything necessary to bring Providence into Milton.She said the city is being urged by to apply for the EPD's Hazardous Site Reuse and Redevelopment Act, also known as the "Brownfields Act." Basically, it would release the city from liability and promote reuse of the closed site, according to a Sept. 5, 2007 letter sent to Fulton County's Public Works department by the EPD.According to Regina Campbell, compliance officer for Providence Park, under the Brownfield Act Milton would be liable for all soil cleanup. But Fulton has taken care of that already, so the city should be free and clear.But she has not seen the city's application yet."Still [Fulton County] has the liability of that [groundwater] clean up, we can't take on that role," said D'Aversa. "There's no additional liability that I can foresee."

Jessica Corbitt, public affairs manager for Fulton County, said the county's research indicates the decision is completely up to the EPD. Only it can decide whether or not to subdivide the park."The EPD has to make its decision before anyone moves forward," she said.

The city has already been involved in talks with the metro Atlanta YMCA to program recreation activities at the park. In addition, a police precinct housed in the main building at Providence is on the table.Dan Pile, group vice president for the Metro Atlanta YMCA, said his community group has been in talks with Fulton County about programming the park for at least the last 10 years. When Milton incorporated, the YMCA simply shifted its efforts to the new city."We saw this as an opportunity to serve taxpayers," said Pile. "It provides a excellent opportunity for education, it's centrally located ... we can expose this park to a larger section of taxpayers."

The YMCA is looking at using Providence Park's rock rappelling wall and natural beauty for a series of outdoor adventure and education camps, Pile said."There are very few parks with the amount of acreage that Providence has," said Pile, who added that previously the largely undeveloped park was "underutilized, unknown and not accessed."And the point, said D'Aversa and Scott, is to not let any more time pass when the city is hurting for parks and recreation options and unchecked environmental factors are depreciating the gifts Providence holds."We need to get in there and have a presence there so it's not abandoned property that suffers the fate of all abandoned property," said Scott.

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