PORTSMOUTH – City staff are doing their “due diligence” to determine if there are any environmental issues on the 34 acres Community campus property and lands that the city recently agreed to purchase for $10 million, according to City Attorney Robert Sullivan.
Sullivan acknowledged that former Mayor Rick Becksted “passed on” to us a report from a resident that areas on or near Community Campus property had once been used as a dumping area for debris or filling of the city. Northern Urban Renewal project.
“We take any concerns of this nature with the type of seriousness required in a $10 million real estate transaction,” Sullivan said. City consulting engineers are carrying out work on the site, he said.
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“They are the experts and they are doing the investigative work necessary to tell us what the environmental situation is on the property,” Sullivan said.
The city council voted unanimously in December to spend $10 million to buy the 34-acre community campus property, which is owned by the Foundation for Seacoast Health, a nonprofit corporation that runs a nonprofit center profit multi-tenant on the site.
Council voted earlier in 2021 to authorize City Manager Karen Conard to negotiate a buy-and-sell agreement with the Foundation For Seacoast Health.
The two sides don’t have “a signed agreement yet,” Sullivan said Wednesday.
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Mayor Deaglan McEachern previously called the purchase “very significant to the city” and said the property could potentially be used for housing, a sports facility or to expand the Seacoast Community School on the site.
If it’s determined there was a spill at the site, Sullivan said “that wouldn’t be unusual.”
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“There are established ways to deal with it,” he said.
Sullivan remains “very confident” the sale will go through.
“Keep in mind this was a unanimous vote,” he added.
Becksted believes areas of Community Campus property were used as landfill areas after homes were demolished during the city’s urban renewal process.
“It’s part of the city’s history. Even though none of us were part of it, we have a responsibility to make it right,” he said. “Between the community campus and Banfield Road, this is all urban renewal.”
News of the city’s due diligence on the property comes this week after the city’s trust fund trustees adjourned their meeting on Tuesday to get more information on disbursements from the trust to be used as part of the $10 million land purchase.
Board chairman Thomas Watson said the directors “suspended our meeting to allow the legal department to provide additional material.”
“We are always concerned that all steps are followed correctly with our trusts and it is our job not to distribute money that we should not,” he said on Wednesday. “The documentation that the administrators saw contained enough ambiguity to require clarification and that is what we asked the city attorney.”
He believes that once that information is received, the trustees will vote to disburse $627,496 from the Peirce Estate Trust to purchase the community campus, as well as $25,542 from the Daniel Street Trust.
Along with Becksted, former city councilors Paige Trace, Esther Kennedy, Petra Huda and Peter Whelan appeared at Tuesday’s meeting and raised concerns about the process, Watson said.
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Becksted stressed that he supported the use of trust funds for the purchase, but said: ‘I wanted to make sure we followed the proper procedures.’
“I think the trusts should have been part of their own vote as a separate resolution,” Becksted added.
The Legal Department is ready to “provide administrators with everything they need,” Sullivan said, “and we will do that as soon as possible.”
“I am absolutely certain that the board has authorized the transfer of trust funds and I am ready to do whatever is necessary to achieve this goal as quickly as possible,” he said.
This article originally appeared on the Portsmouth Herald: Portsmouth NH probes potential environmental issues at community campus