Cleanup of Northwest industrial site signals new approach by city

John Carson is thrilled to hear that the abandoned industrial site adjacent to his property finally will be cleaned up.

The chairman of Carson Oil Co. said he's complained about the problems at the vacant Columbia American Plating, 3003 N.W. 35th Ave., for the past 15 years.

A dilapidated structure is surrounded by piles of garbage, old office furniture, scrap metal, concrete structures and broken glass littering the ground.

Police have been called to the site on reports of vandalism and transients starting fires, and Carson said that a chemical explosion there several years ago sent a drum over to his property.

'The only thing they can reasonably do is simply take it down,' Carson said. 'It's just a shell (of a building) anyway.'

Larry Anson, the property owner, did not return calls for comment.

Starting today, the city's nuisance inspection office will begin cleanup of the site, which has accumulated about $2 million in liens by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The agency found small concentrations of toxic chemicals.

At a cost of $11,000 to the city, a contractor will spend about a week removing the debris and securing a fence around the site, while a Multnomah County juvenile justice work crew will help remove overgrown vegetation.

It's unlikely the city will recover the cleanup cost because the liens against the property are already so high, said Kathy Saunders, the neighborhood inspector who began working on the case in November in response to complaints by citizens and nearby businesses.

'It's one of the worst I've seen,' she said during a recent trip to the site. 'I've seen some bad places though. É People are scrapping and taking whatever they can take. That has created this kind of mess.'

There are no immediate redevelopment plans for the site, although a couple of potential buyers have been interested in it, said Mark Pugh, a project manager with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, which also has been investigating.

Collaboration leads to action

Saunders, one of 10 neighborhood inspectors in the city's Office of Neighborhood Involvement, called the cleanup a success story because of the collaborative work by the federal agencies, the city fire marshal's office, city crime prevention workers and police.

The neighborhood inspection program Ñ which investigates reports of trash and debris, grass and weeds, housing maintenance and disabled vehicles on private property Ñ has undergone several changes in the past year, with a new strategy that focuses on finding solutions and working toward compliance with city codes rather than automatic enforcement fees.

That has led to a decrease in revenue for the program, said inspection supervisor Ed Marihart. The program is supported heavily by its own revenues Ñ all but $400,000 of its $1.8 million budget.

With revenues falling about $50,000 short this year, Marihart said the program might have to dip into its reserves or its other sources of city money.

Inspections increase

The other big trend in the program has been that the number of housing and nuisance inspections has shot up nearly a third this year. A total of 4,366 cases were opened last July through December, up 29 percent from the same period the previous year. That included a 37 percent increase in nuisance cases and a 16 percent increase in housing cases.

Marihart said the rise is partly due to greater awareness of the program in the community. Inspectors have begun attending hundreds of neighborhood meetings each year; the program also was thrust in the spotlight last year during high-profile investigations of three neighborhood inspectors. One of the inspectors was fired; another was placed on four weeks of unpaid leave. The case of the third was dropped.

Overall, Marihart said, he believes complaints about nuisance properties have increased because of a higher standard of cleanliness expected from neighbors.

His office has handled the workload by adding a full-time nuisance inspector last January; before, there was only one inspector, who had seasonal help during the summertime, when complaints increase.

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