There are multiple reasons for Baker County to clean up the abandoned lime plant along Interstate 84 about four miles west of Huntington.
The property, which the county took ownership of in 1999 through tax delinquency, could result in the county being the defendant in a civil lawsuit should someone get hurt there, even though the plant is marked with “no trespassing” signs. In June 2010, an Ontario man died near the plant when a cave collapsed on him.
The plant has not generated property tax revenue for the county for almost two decades, but it has the potential to do that — and more.
The property has good access to both the freeway and to the Union Pacific Railroad, which could make it attractive for a company that would create jobs as well as pay property taxes.
What with all the possible benefits of demolishing the existing concrete silos and other structures and making the property saleable, we understand why Bill Harvey, chairman of the Baker County Board of Commissioners, has been talking with officials from Ash Grove Cement Co. about the clean up.
Harvey told fellow commissioners Bruce Nichols and Mark Bennett last week that Ash Grove has offered to pay $315,000 of the estimated $620,000 cost. Although Ash Grove doesn’t own the former lime plant, the company does own a parcel near the county’s property.
This sounds like a great deal for Baker County, and it may be just that.
But Harvey’s proposal raises questions, and we understand why Bennett and Nichols didn’t simply rubber stamp their colleague’s idea.
Their chief concern is the obvious one — where does the county get the money to leverage Ash Grove’s dollars? The county didn’t set aside money for the lime plant in the budget for the fiscal year that started July 1, 2017.
Bennett, who said he didn’t know about Harvey’s discussions with Ash Grove until last week, also is curious, and rightfully so, about why the company insists that a particular contractor (which wasn’t identified) be used, and why the work needs to get started in April.
These questions need to be answered before the county commits a considerable amount of public dollars, no matter how worthwhile the project.
Still and all, we agree with Harvey that this is an opportunity the county might not have again. It’s one that could save the county more than $300,000 in the short term and possibly pay dividends far into the future.
Speaking of which — if a similar project ever presents itself, we’d like to see all three of our elected commissioners involved, or at least be aware of the proposal, sooner than six weeks before a purported deadline.
We’d rather commissioners not make hasty decisions when public money is at stake.
From the Baker City Herald editorial board. The board consists of editor Jayson Jacoby and reporter Chris Collins.