CARIBOU, Maine — The owner of buildings considered dangerous by the city said this week that he is working with local companies to have the former Birds Eye property secured in a way that will keep children out.
Steve Nasiff said he plans to install motion detecting lights, a fence and cameras and to also have someone guarding the property because “not one of those things by itself would keep kids out,” he said Tuesday afternoon.
Caribou’s City Council stipulated during its June 23 meeting that Nasiff, owner of Nasiff International of Fall River, Massachusetts, needed to develop a cleanup plan for the site within 30 days. He also was ordered to secure the site to prevent people trespassing or getting hurt in any of the buildings at the former vegetable processing plant.
Tony Mazzucco, assistant city manager and code enforcement officer, said Monday that securing the site with a fence or a guard is only a temporary measure.
“In some cases, it still doesn’t alleviate the safety concerns from these severely deteriorated structures,” he said. “It’s not just the presence of an abandoned structure that’s the issue; it’s the risk of structural collapse, and in most of the buildings, imminent structural collapse is obvious.”
While the council agreed that the structures needed to be secured for public safety, Nasiff said on Tuesday that there’s a reason why a fire hasn’t occurred and no one’s been hurt.
“It’s because of the work we did,” he stated.
Nasiff understands that it doesn’t look like much work has been done, but he defended that he spent eight months cleaning out the buildings on the site and even knocked down a 26,000 square foot potato house, remediating its asbestos in the process. He also outlined that he’s in the process of getting a plan together for the council, “mostly getting bids, numbers, assessments of what needs to be done with the individual buildings.”
He added that he would have something in-hand for his next meeting with councilors and city officials.
In the midst of preparing the cleanup plan, Nasiff said he received his property tax bill for $311,000, “which frosted me a bit.”
Nasiff said that he wasn’t aware of the city’s efforts to have the buildings on the site declared dangerous until mid-April, which surprised him, since he’s been trying to sell the property to the town.
“To me, it’s a sham,” he said. “It’s a tactic to take this property from me without paying me fair money for it.”
Nasiff further stated two reasons as to why he feels it’s a sham: “One, it’s been there the whole time, and two, when someone’s going to lose [a property to the city], there’s a history of problems.”
He explained that there isn’t a history of problems with the site because of the work he’s done to the facility.
Mazzucco explained that the city is serious about addressing its blighted buildings in a proactive manner. Acknowledging that blighted buildings can be found across the state and are not unique to Caribou, he said that city officials are working with their partners at the state level to see what they can do about cleaning up dangerous and blighted sites.
“We’ve decided that we want Caribou to be a nice place to live, work and play, and people have a right to have abutting properties that are safe and clean,” Mazzucco said Monday. “That’s really what it comes down to, is safe and clean housing and neighborhoods. Some of these problems have existed in the community for a long time and haven’t been addressed, and we’re very serious about addressing them.”
He pointed out that earlier in June, the city closed the Lazy Acres mobile home park on the Access Highway because of a failed septic system, forcing two residents to relocate their trailers.
Mazzucco said that in order to continue operating the mobile home park, the owner had been ordered to install a new septic system and to fill in a large, open hole that was collecting sewage.
“He did neither, so the city, stepped in and filled the hole in completely with gravel, thus abating the immediate nuisance of the open raw sewage flowing from the two homes,” Mazzucco said.
The cost of doing so was $2,831.77, which Lazy Acres owner Bradley McCurtain of Portland paid. Included in the memo line on the check, however, was the statement “paid under protest and lack of due process reserving all rights to challenge.”
“He may think that cost is unfair, but once again, if he corrected the issue when it came in, he probably could have done it for much less,” Mazzucco said.
McCurtain offered no comment on Tuesday afternoon.
Mazzucco said he’s spoken with McCurtain’s attorney, and the owner expressed interest in correcting the remaining land use violations on the property. The assistant city manager said those violations included “piles of debris, abandoned vehicles and the three remaining homes which, regardless of the septic issue, are not habitable.”
On the list of Caribou’s blighted buildings are some Collins Street properties owned by the city.
“We’re actively preparing plans to take care of city owned properties that are in poor condition,” Mazzucco said. “One of the challenges we face, and we just had a meeting this morning with the Department of Environmental Protection, is that any city acquired properties that we want to tear down, we’re required to go through asbestos abatement. That naturally adds enormously to the cost and the timeframe.”