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City moves to take control of riverfront

Council gives OK to sign Stanley donation agreement

STERLING – The city moved closer Monday to its goal of controlling all 35 acres of land along its riverfront.

The City Council voted 5-1 to approve a donation agreement with Stanley Black & Decker in which the manufacturer of tools and hardware would relinquish ownership of the National Manufacturing site on the north and south sides of the railroad tracks along the river.

Council members had received a draft of the proposal during a closed session in August.

The biggest concern for the city throughout the negotiating process had been limiting its liability for environmental costs, City Manager Scott Shumard said last week.

"The top priorities in this process have been to acquire ownership of all the riverfront property, while not being saddled with a huge amount of the environmental costs," Shumard said.

The agreement calls for Stanley to assume responsibility for cleaning up any underground contaminants associated with the planned demolition of buildings. The city would be liable for above-ground contaminants such as asbestos and lead paint that would likely have to be dealt with during the renovation process.

The city has said it plans to take down 6 of the 10 buildings included in the agreement. Shumard said the estimated demolition cost would be $1.5 million to $1.7 million.

Second Ward Alderman Barry Cox cast the lone dissenting vote. He said his decision was based on the potential cost of the redevelopment project.

"The cost of this could affect not just me, but my kids and grandkids," Cox said. "I would rather see a private developer come to the area and throw some money at it."

The agreement is the culmination of negotiations that began when the city was notified of Stanley's plans to end its manufacturing operations in Sterling and Rock Falls. The company announced the National closure on May 26, 2010.

"The city had some contact with Stanley, but with not as much success as we would have liked," Shumard said.

That was when Greg Hummel was hired by the city to lead the negotiations. Hummel, an attorney with Bryan Cave LLP, specializes in environmental law. At the Oct 21 City Council meeting, Hummel had recommended that the donation agreement be approved at Monday's meeting. The document had already been signed by Stanley.

Architects from Gary W. Anderson of Rockford were brought into the process early on.

"Architects came to us with what's best suited for redevelopment, with parking and greenspace at a premium," Shumard said.

Although the agreement has been approved by both sides, the city must now wait for Stanley and the Illinois EPA to complete the remediation planning process.

Shumard said remediation will take at least a year. Environmental consultants hired by Stanley are expected to come to town next week to begin the process. It will be considered complete when EPA issues a No Further Remediation letter.

Sterling Mayor Skip Lee is optimistic about wrapping up remediation.

"We have always had a good relationship with IEPA and other state agencies," he said. "The state has been very receptive to our redevelopment efforts, and the National and Lawrence buildings are in relatively good shape physically."

Lee says that gaining control of the riverfront should spur a collective mindset change within the community.

"The riverfront has always been a theoretical, someday thing," he said. "Now we have to talk about the specifics of what we're going to do with it – and that excites me."

Other items

Also Monday:

– The council approved a 1-year extension of an intergovernmental agreement with Rock Falls for adjudication services. Tim Slavin will again be the hearing officer at a rate of $650 a session – a $50 increase from the original agreement.

– A motion declaring Nov. 30 as Small Business Saturday was approved by the council. It will be a collaborative effort with Rock Falls and Dixon.

– Twin City Joint Fire Command Chief Gary Cook led a promotion ceremony for firefighter Jim Alumbaugh, who is now a lieutenant.

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