June, July unapproved minutes cover city liability insurance, dump purchase, land sales at Gillem

by Robin Kemp

5:38 p.m.: ADDS MARTA comment on survey

Minutes from the June 24 and July 29 Forest Park Urban Redevelopment Authority meetings are still pending approval as September draws to a close–and those minutes contain a lot of information about the city dispensing with parts of Fort Gillem that are known toxic dumps. Minutes before approving the sales, the URA voted to buy insurance coverage that its advisors said could protect the city against any “issues” the Army doesn’t address. Although the “issues” were not specificed in the minutes, the Army long ago disavowed any responsibility for problems related to base contamination in documents related to the Park at Fort Gillem Apartments property.

The minutes are on the URA’s agenda for its Thursday, September 22 meeting at 6 p.m.

The Forest Park Downtown Development Authority will meet just beforehand at 5:30 p.m.

The public can attend, with masks and social distancing, in City Council Chambers at City Hall, 745 Forest Parkway. Despite the appointed boards’ vote to split the cost of installing livestream equipment in council chambers for shared use, no link for a livestream appeared on the published minutes for September 23 of either the DDA or the URA. The Clayton Crescent did not find a livestream for the 5:30 p.m. DDA meeting on either the city’s YouTube or Facebook pages.

New URA members will be sworn in as the first order of business.

On the URA’s agenda are minutes from the June 24 and July 29 meetings that are pending approval and contain information about the city’s potential liability for “certain issues” at the contaminated former Fort Gillem, as well as votes on land sales at the property.

The URA is the city’s arm’s-length entity that handles the city’s business at the former Army base.

At the June 24 meeting, those present included:

  • Mayor Angelyne Butler, Chairwoman
  • Steve Bernard, Vice Chairman
  • Nachae’ Jones, Member
  • Eliot Lawrence, Member
  • Eric Stallings, Member
  • Lois Wright, Member
  • Ed Taylor, Member

Others present were:

  • City Attorney Mike Williams
  • City Manager Dr. Marc-Antonie Cooper
  • Economic Development Director Bruce Abraham
  • Interim Finance Director Darquita Williams
  • Public Works Director Bobby Jinks
  • Economic Development Associate Kisha Bundridge
  • Greenberg Traurig shareholder Giuiliano Apadula
  • Robinson Weeks CEO David Welch
  • Robinson Weeks Property Management Director Frances Jackson

Gillem insurance: “We could potentially be responsible for certain things”

When the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) shut down Fort Gillem, the Army was well aware that doing so would dispense with a collection of decades-old toxic sites that had begun spreading contamination to surrounding homes. Meanwhile, the City of Forest Park, whose economy had depended heavily on the base for the better part of a century, set up the Forest Park/Fort Gillem Implementation Local Redevelopment Authority, or “LRA” for short. Its purpose was to figure out how to buy the old base and put it to some kind of use that would keep the city economically viable.

But whoever bought the land also bought a lot of environmental headaches: waiting for the Army Corps of Engineers to remediate existing contamination to regulatory minimums before sales could happen, along with plenty of legalese from the Army denying any future liability for future problems, should any arise years later, related to that contamination.

At the June 24 meeting, Williams said the city’s insurance brokers had submitted a renewal package to six companies, got three responses, and that, of the top two companies, Beazley was recommended because it was $250,000 less than the city’s existing policy. According to the published minutes, “Mike Williams and Giuliano Apadula, who joined the meeting to answer any questions anyone may have about the policy, pointed out that the BRAC rules say that we could potentially be responsible for certain things, but that this new policy will kick in to cover expenses that the Army fails to respond to or is delayed in responding to.”

Bernard responded that “decisions like these are huge decisions to make and the board should not be asked to vote
without first having time to properly review the information or see a presentation of the information.”

Butler agreed that “these decisions should not be entered into lightly,” but added that “regular attendance at the meetings and reviewing the materials that are sent to the board members prior to the meeting would help in ensuring that everyone is making informed decisions.” Butler told the board that “everyone can do better by coming to the meetings, reviewing material presented and making sure that information is shared in a timely fashion.”

Lawrence made a motion, seconded by Wright, to go with Beazley as the new insurer. The board voted unanimously to do so, then went into executive session for over an hour, apparently to discuss real estate matters.

PHOTOS: Fort Gillem parcels and related maps

URA sells toxic Gillem dump for $50K per acre

When the board returned, Wright made a motion, seconded by Jones, to accept an offer to purchase the “Northwest Landfill” for $50,000 per acre. The board voted unanimously to accept the offer. The minutes do not identify the buyer and online county tax records did not reflect a sale as of press time. However, during the April 22 meeting, Williams told the board that Robison Weeks had made a proposal to buy acreage there, as well as “the property on the corner of Anvil Block Road.” Williams said Robinson Weeks has “had options to buy and develop up to 500 acres at Gillem,” and that it still had an option to buy 50 acres that would expire in June. It’s not clear how much land was sold at the “Northwest Landfill” nor what parcel on the corner of Anvil Block Road was proposed for purchase.

A check of county property tax records shows the United States of America (in care of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Savannah) owns four parcels on the former Fort Gillem.

It also owns a parcel on Georgia Hwy. 54 for which no maps, sketches, or pictometry are available. That parcel number is 12177 208003, which, according to county records, is 265.5 acres with a fair market value of $18,452,500, an assessed value of $7,381,000 and lies within Forest Park Tax Allocation District T3FP.

County tax records show a property that, from aerial images, appears to contain the FTG-01 Landfill. That property is 211.36 acres, making for an estimated sales price of $10,568,000. Tax records show the parcel, which is located in the Forest Park Tax Allocation District, has a fair market value as $14,689,500.

Fort Gillem’s FTG-01 Landfill is situated in the northwest corner of the base. A final Army Corps of Engineers study in February proposed a $1.9 million remediation effort that involves injecting microbes into groundwater to eat toxic waste that was dumped for decades and seeped out into neighborhoods north of the base. The Corps published notice of a public comment period in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but not in the county paper of record, the Clayton News. The Clayton Crescent found the notice halfway through the public comment period and wrote about it, prompting questions from local residents as to whether they might be at risk from Fort Gillem’s contamination.

Lawrence then made a motion, seconded by Bernard, to authorize the sale of “the southern portion of the historic area of Ft. Gillem to Blue Star Studio.” The board also voted unanimously to do so. Previous board minutes from May 27 show Wright made a motion, which Jones seconded, to “authorize signing a letter of intent with studio, Blue Star Productions” following an executive session. On June 24, Lawrence moved and Bernard seconded the sale to Blue Star, which passed unanimously.

The Clayton Crescent has filed an Open Records Request seeking more information about the two land deals.

Ed Taylor then made a motion, seconded by Jones, to add a discussion about bringing food trucks and MARTA to the former Fort Gillem. Francine Jackson of Robinson Weeks told the board the “Atlanta Food Coalition [possibly the Street Food Coalition] provides a service to its members whereby they pay an annual fee into the association and in return are part of their advertising and promotion campaigns” and that “Franks & White [a Jonesboro real estate firm] are working on getting the permit for the City of Forest Park and the goal is to have the Atlanta Food Coalition send out a variety of food trucks to Ft. Gillem every day.”

Jackson said MARTA had asked Georgia Commute [possibly Georgia Commute Options] to “do some surveying, and act as a liaison between MARTA and the city of Forest Park.” As part of that effort, she said, Franks & White had recently met with Kroger, Home Depot Supply, Kalera, and Cummins “to discuss the strategies to collect data for the report we will need to produce for MARTA by the end of August.”

A MARTA spokesperson told The Clayton Crescent, “MARTA conducted a survey in August 2019 at Gillem to explore interest in adding or extending an existing bus route that would circulate throughout the complex. The response rate was very low and no conclusions could be drawn from the data. Georgia Commute was not involved.”

At the URA’s July 29 meeting, new members were sworn in and a presentation from The Collaborative Firm’s managing director, Kathy Warren, detailed a schedule of public relations items that would be “pushed out” as part of the city’s “Forest Park is On the Move” campaign.

In April, the URA voted to hire The Collaborative Firm after it was the sole bidder of four PR firms seeking the job. At least two other companies, South Atlanta Media and Leff and Associates, said they had not been informed of the meeting and would have presented had the Economic Development Office notified them a vote was pending. State law requires public notice when a city or other local government entity is seeking goods or services worth $100,000 or more. The Collaborative Firm’s proposed price was $92,250. The other three companies came in over the $100,000 threshold for public notification.

According to the minutes, “A database of more than 400 entries was created to push out news to local businesses, elected officials and key shareholders. The Collaborative Firm will relay information to City of Forest Park citizens and the public at large, via The Green Leaf’s digital platform. Shared information will include interviews from a key list of people, and other information The Collaborative Firm has already gathered from within the community. Hard copies of the Green Leaf publication will be made available throughout the city, a Facebook page highlighting Economic Development
initiatives, and depending on what is happening, news releases will go out.” One such strategic placement, titled “The city of Forest Park is on the move” and featuring Abraham, appeared in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on July 16 under the “Viewpoint” section.

Owning the dirt

The Collaborative Group has set up “town hall”-style meetings for residents of the Holland Park/Park at Fort Gillem apartment community, which is in old base housing on land that the Army owns. Residents there expressed concerns about whether they could be exposed to toxic waste from any of the hazardous sites on the former base. In response, the city sent environmental contractor Oasis Consulting to test the apartments for mold and lead paint. During the first meeting, Williams told residents “The URA owns the dirt,” but did not say whether the city had taken possession of the land prior to the Army’s lease end date of 2024. The Army has to remediate any contamination there before the city, through its URA can have the site. In the 1990s, the Army amended the property’s paperwork to make clear it would not be responsible for any future ill effects from contamination.

DDA: New agreement as to which board does what

The only item specified on the DDA agenda is “Approval of proposed Minutes” from the July 29 meeting. Although “Old Business” and “New Business” are on the published agenda, neither category specifies particular items. Under Georgia law, boards can add items to the agenda at the last minute or during the called meeting.

According to the proposed minutes in the agenda packet, the DDA discussed a single intergovernmental agreement between the city and all three development boards–the DA, the DDA, and the URA.

The Downtown Development Authority (DDA) members at the time included:

  • Mayor Angelyne Butler, Chairwoman
  • Steve Bernard, Vice Chairman
  • Ed Taylor, Secretary
  • Nachae’ Jones, Member
  • Eliot Lawrence, Member
  • Eric Stallings, Member
  • Lois Wright, Member

Bernard and Stallings were absent from the July 29 meeting. Others present included:

  • City Attorney Mike Williams
  • City Manager Dr. Marc-Antonie Cooper
  • Economic Development Director Bruce Abraham
  • Public Works Director Bobby Jinks
  • Economic Development Associate Kisha Bundridge

Two new members, Jacklyn Faith and Nancy Howard, replaced Lois Wright and Eliot Lawrence. The current members of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) are:

  • Mayor Angelyne Butler, Chairwoman
  • Steve Bernard, Vice Chairman
  • Ed Taylor, Secretary
  • Nachae’ Jones, Member
  • Eric Stallings, Member
  • Jacklyn Faith, Member
  • Nancy Howard, Member

After the new members were sworn in, Williams told the board that city staff were working on a two-part plan to update the 2018 intergovernmental agreement with the City of Forest Park “as it relates to staffing and other issues.” Williams said the new IGA would need to “make clear who is responsible for what.” He suggested a single IGA for all three development boards that would list each board’s responsibilities, “especially regarding collaborative efforts,” and “jointly authorize Economic Development Department strategies and plans.”

Wright said she wanted to see the boards continue to operate as separate entities, but communicate with each other about what they were doing.

Williams said “that the plan would not be to join together the three boards. The purpose of the Intergovernmental Agreement would be to have the boards act and operate in the same manner but clarify or define roles when the boards coordinate on economic development projects.” The packet did not include a copy of the proposed intergovernmental agreement.


The Forest Park Development Authority meets at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 29, according to the city’s meetings page. No agenda had been posted for that meeting as of press time.


Resources

Georgia Procurement Manual, Department of Administrative Services: The definitive guide to government purchasing in the State of Georgia.

Oasis Consulting Services: The company details the services it has provided for the City of Forest Park related to environmental safety at the former Fort Gillem.

Gillem Logistics Center: Learn about the businesses at the former Army base. The site includes an unbylined excerpt from a 2018 story by former Clayton News reporter and The Clayton Crescent’s Robin Kemp about Cummins Diesel’s grand opening, which you can read in full here.

“Fort Gillem, Georgia Conveyance Progress Report”: This U.S. Army report from 2020 offers a condensed overview of actions it has to complete before the base is fully relinquished. It summarizes the “primary contaminants of concern” as metals, volatile organic compounds, and semi-volatile organic compounds, acknowledges “media of concern” as groundwater, sediment, soil, and surface water. The Army says that “unexploded ordinance (UXO) and Munitions and Exploisves of concern are not a significant issue,” although the base had to excavate a mustard bomb on the southeast side.

“Bombs in Your Backyard”: ProPublica’s list of contaminated sites at Fort Gillem.

“Draft Final Proposed Plan, FTG-01, North Landfill Area, Fort Gillem, Forest Park, Georgia”: A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan written by contractor Aptim Federal Services, LLC in February, detailing conditions in the northwest corner of the old base and suggesting that microbes could decontaminate groundwater there. The Army dumped numerous hazardous chemicals there for decades and the contamination has run into nearby neighborhoods, including streams so contaminated that signs have been posted, warning people to stay away from the water.

Leave a Reply