Vicksburg officials won’t learn of Kuhn environmental grant until May

Published 11:22 pm Friday, December 9, 2016

City officials should know in May if Vicksburg will receive one or two Brownfields grants to raze the buildings and clear the Kuhn Memorial Hospital property, members of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen learned Friday.

Funded by the Environmental Protection Agency, Brownfields grants provide money to help local governments clean and renovate former hazardous material sites.

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“The awards are usually announced in May,” said Jere “Trey” Hess, director of Brownfields and economic development for PPM Consultants, which was hired by the city to assist in applying for two Brownfields cleanup grants totaling $400,000. The deadline for filing the grant is Dec. 22.

He said an asbestos assessment performed by PPM in November indicated the buildings on the property have asbestos, which will require special work to remove and dispose of the material.

Hess said preliminary estimates from PPM based on a tour of the property and the asbestos assessment indicate the total cost of demolishing the buildings, removing a diesel tank containing 4,000 gallons of fuel, and clearing the property is $615,000. An earlier estimate put the total at $850,000.

The encouraging thing about the diesel tank, he said, “Is it’s been sitting there a long, long time, and the fact that it is still there means the tank still has some integrity to it. In terms of disposing of that, we’re actually looking for a recycler for that, that hopefully will not be a lot of money.”

Hess suggested the city consider looking at other forms of funding, including a low-interest Mississippi Development Authority CAP loan, adding MDA officials have told PPM they would support a loan for the Kuhn cleanup. He said a copy of the MDA letter will be included with the application sent to EPA.

The cleanup grant, which is a reimbursement grant, repays 80 percent of the city’s costs of demolition and cleanup.

Hess said the grant award “is a competitive process, so there is a 3 out of 4 chance of receiving this grant. About 75 percent of these grants are winners.”

“In the meantime, what I’m going to do is continue to working with MDA, we’ll probably talk with USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) Rural Development an others (agencies) to see if there are some other leveraged sources. For me, it’s preparing for the worst and hope for the best.

“The city has been very bold and very progressive in taking care of Kuhn Hospital,” Hess said.

The city officially took title to the Kuhn property Nov.1 after reaching agreements with the four parties that had interests in the property.

The decision to acquire the property came after the board in April approved a resolution adopting and authorizing a 33-page urban renewal plan to first demolish the buildings on the property and clear it, then begin the process of finding a developer or nonprofit agency to develop it into a multipurpose residential/commercial development with recreational facilities.

A former city hospital, the city sold Kuhn to the State of Mississippi in 1956 for $5, and the state operated the facility as a charity hospital, initially known as the Vicksburg Charity Hospital, until 1989.

The city regained the property in 1990 under an agreement with the state to turn it over to a private corporation.

In 1993, the building was considered as a possible veterans home, and in 1994, it was considered for a possible 38-bed adolescent psychiatric ward.

In 1999, the building was sold to the Lassiter-Studdard Group Inc., which planned to open a 100-bed clinic and assisted living center.

The plans fell through, and in 2000 the company donated the building to the Esther Stewart Buford Foundation.

The property has been sold six times for taxes, and city officials have been trying for at least the past 10 years to get the property owner to clean the property and demolish or renovate the buildings on the site.

The board on July 6 put the 12.8-acre property under the city’s slum clearance ordinance in a move to step up its efforts to remove the complex’s main building.

The city’s efforts to do something with the property accelerated in the aftermath of the abduction and murder of Sharen Wilson, whose body was found on the property June 28, 2015.

Police said Wilson was killed in the back building and her body left on the property, where ghost hunters who were on the site found it. When the parties with an interest in the property failed to present plans to either raze or renovate the two buildings on the site in September, it cleared the way to begin the process for their demolition.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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