Valley of the Drums
The mess — piles of rotting cardboard barrels and rusting 55-gallon metal barrels, collapsed ceilings, disused machinery, puddles of murky water, and indescribable junk — inside the old Wenning Packing Co. plant at Central Barren is a bizarre, depressing sight.
And whether all that stuff could be as environmentally harmful as it looks is yet to be determined. But one thing is for sure: the abandoned, former meat packing plant is clearly a hazard.
“I can just see little kids getting in here and getting hurt,” said First District Commissioner James Goldman as he walked around the dank and cold brick and ceramic tile building last week.
Evidence inside, such as discarded soft drink cans and a muddy path that curves in and out of piles of junk, suggests someone has been inside recently, despite the yellow tape stretched across the front of the former parking lot that warns people not to enter the premises.
Except for tall weeds, the outside looks clear of abandoned vehicles and other items.
The grim site served many years as a meat packing plant, then briefly as a water bottling company and, most recently, as a barrel and drum clean-up operation.
“Most of the barrels seem empty, but the place has caved in inside,” said Goldman, who plans to meet with state environmental officials next week. “We will see what we can do. There’s been no concerted, organized effort to bring it to a head.”
Instead, most everyone would appear to prefer to “let sleeping dogs lie,” he said. “But this mess has been laying here long enough. It’s costing money; it’s an eyesore”
Goldman, a Depauw dairy farmer, knows what he would like to do about the mess: bulldoze the building and the 200 to 300 discarded barrels inside. “That’s my hands-on approach; to get out there with a bulldozer and go to it,” he said. “But not really; I can’t do that.”
Instead, Goldman said he will continue to work with IDEM and SESCO, an environmental service company based in Indianapolis that may be hired to assess the possible hazards.
That, Goldman said, will depend on the Harrison County Council approving funds for the assessment. SESCO’s two-phase proposal would cost just over $29,500.
That may not be necessary if the barrel company and IDEM follow through on their earlier commitments.
Alan Blackman, operator of the former barrel company, 3-B Barrel and Drum Co., pleaded guilty in November 1999 to two felony counts of storing hazardous waste at the site.
As part of his agreement to avoid a prison sentence, Blackman agreed to clean up the site. Under the agreement worked out with the Harrison County Prosecutor’s office, Blackman has until Jan. 1, 2003, to complete the job.
“He needs to know I’m going to be looking over his shoulder,” Goldman said.
Environmental hazards were removed by IDEM at a cost of $110,000, but Blackman must yet remove the remaining items.
IDEM conducted 16 inspections and ordered Blackman to clean up the facility prior to criminal charges.
Since that time, taxes have not been paid on the property and the bill, with penalties, has added up to more than $187,000. Harrison County now owns the property but can’t sell it in its current condition, Goldman said.
The taxes “will never be paid,” which adds to the burden of Morgan Township taxpayers, Goldman said. “We can’t sit back and watch the red ink continue to flow,” he added. “We need to be proactive and get this resolved.”