CARIBOU, Maine — The owner of the former Birds Eye vegetable processing plant told members of the Caribou City Council that he will not clean up the site unless he can obtain “free money” in the form of a grant.
Steven R. Nasiff of the Massachusetts-based Nasiff Land LLC, who has owned the property since 2003, attended Monday night’s City Council meeting in order to present his plan to remediate the dilapidated and dangerous buildings at the complex. It was his second meeting with the council this summer.
On June 28, city councilors ordered Nasiff to do two things with the property: secure its dangerous buildings within seven days and develop a plan within 30 days outlining how the dangerous buildings would be removed from the property.
City Manager Austin Bleess reiterated to the council that Nasiff had not met the seven-day deadline for securing the property and that city staffers were wary of the cleanup proposal presented by Nasiff, particularly since the timeline included applying for a brownfield grant to fund the clean up.
“Nasiff Land is not eligible to receive these brownfield grants for remediation and cleanup through the Environmental Protection Agency,” Bleess said, adding that only local governments are eligible for those funds. “The plan states that remediation and demolition would be done to coincide with grant awards. Since the owner is not eligible to receive a grant, there would be no award of a grant, and therefore, this part of the plan does not seem reasonable.”
Nasiff confirmed toward the end of the Monday night meeting that he would not go forward with the cleanup unless grant funding could be obtained.
“If we’re right tonight, and there’s no grant money, I’m not doing anything,” Nasiff said. “I’m not going to owe $500,000 bucks on that property.”
Nasiff owes back taxes on the complex with the last payment on the property made in November 2013 to settle up the 2011 tax bill. Outstanding taxes are owed for 2012-14 in the amounts of $4,661, $4,648 and $4,708, respectively, including interest.
Also, after Nasiff missed the deadline last month to secure the dangerous buildings, the city stepped in to have fencing erected, and the bill was sent to Nasiff in the form of a tax. Nasiff told the councilors Monday that the city had done good work.
“What happened with the fence is beautiful, and you closed the thing up — that was a very small thing to do that made a big difference,” he said. “I’m not adverse to working with the city on any type of thing you’d like to do.”
Referring to the remaining cleanup and demolition work, Nasiff suggested that the council might be able to do a better job than he could.
“The bottom line is if you people can get free money and you’re going to knock the buildings down — that’s not rocket science, knocking the buildings down — it’s free money,” he said, referencing the city’s eligibility to apply for grant funding. “That’s a good thing.”
Councilor Joan Theriault was quick to express her disapproval.
“Why should we do it? It’s your property, it’s your dangerous buildings — it’s your uninsured dangerous property,” she said. “Why are you looking at us to take the burden from you? Why should that be our responsibility? Eleven years, why didn’t you do something. … This isn’t our responsibility, it’s yours.”
Nasiff’s plan, outlined during Monday’s meeting, listed vague dates for reaching project goals such as having a structural engineer assess the buildings by mid-August and hiring a local contractor to mow the vegetation and clean up debris on the site between mid-August and early September.
Rejecting Nasiff’s submitted plan, the councilors unanimously approved their own outline under the state’s dangerous buildings statute.
They ordered a soil management plan for soil remediation done by Aug. 25; an inspection of the freezer building by a qualified engineer by Aug. 29 and repairs completed by Oct. 15 or 31, depending on the extent of the remediation necessary; all asbestos remediated by a licensed contractor by Sept. 12; five buildings demolished and the debris removed by Oct. 31; soil remediation completed by Oct. 31; and all remaining work identified in the most recent environmental assessment completed by Nov. 28.
After hearing the demands, Nasiff accused the council of reaching beyond the intention of the dangerous buildings statue.
“You have taken this dangerous buildings thing, and used it to gain leverage to take this property from me — there’s no two ways about it,” he said.
Mayor Gary Aiken clarified that the last thing the city wanted to do was to take the property, and he stated that he’d much rather see Nasiff fix up the property, develop it and sell it.
“Time is of the essence, as you know. If I’m going to fiddle around and do this or that, I have other things to do,” Nasiff said. “You people have other things to do. Let’s put it to rest,” he said.
Aiken asked what Nasiff was proposing, and Nasiff replied, “You give me $100,000, I’ll give you the deed to the property.”
Aiken shook his head no, then clarified that he should have asked the council if they were interested in the purchase before indicating no — but the council was silent on the matter.
The next meeting of the Caribou City Council is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 8, in the City Council Chambers.