The coolest weather this fall has seen yet greeted a crowd at the old state docks property Friday morning for an occasion that could mark a turning point for south Columbus: demolition of the above-ground fuel storage tank farm.
City funds of $400,000 and an additional $300,000 from the Georgia Ports Authority are being used to clear the 15-acre site of around a dozen tanks and structures near South Commons Softball Complex.
Bulldozers from contractor W.T. Miller were on site tearing down structures Friday morning, and will leave behind a field that is ready for development.
Officials have not revealed any plans for the property, which backs up all the way to the Chattahoochee River.
Newly-appointed Mayor Pro Tem and District 6 Councilor Gary Allen said there are a lot of ideas to consider .
“Somebody has talked about an amphitheater-type area with a stage and some recreational-type uses,” he said.
The tank farm is located in District 7, which is represented by Mimi Woodson.
“Here is another wonderful thing for south Columbus...we’re going to get this property ready to give back to the community to have something productive, something that every taxpayer, everyone can enjoy, not just in this district,” Woodson said.
The Ports Authority received the state docks site from the city in the 1960s to operate a port for barges along the river, then leased the property to a company called Omega Partners, LLC for 20 years. They agreed to terminate the lease during negotiations with the city.
Local officials became concerned in 2015 when some residents approached the city about the environmental impact of fuel being stored that close to the river. The city then began talks with the Ports Authority about the sulfate turpentine that had been stored there, emitting a bad odor.
The Ports Authority agreed to pay for an environmental impact study to determine if there was any residual from leaking tanks, and funded three environmental studies in 2015 and 2016. The Georgia Environmental Protection Division has since certified the site clear of contamination.
John Hudgison, director of the city’s Building Inspections and Code Enforcement department, said the city will continue to perform environmental studies as the demolition continues to make sure there is no lingering contamination.
Betsy Covington, chair of the Vibrant and Connected Places action area of Columbus 2025, attended the demolition ceremony Friday, marking the huge impact the change will have on the surrounding community.
“Any time you open up space along the river for other possibilities, it’s a great day in the community,” Covington said. “I don’t know what this will be, but it will be something that looks better than it is. It really is a great example of the way we used to think about river fronts versus the way we think about them now.”
“It’s a great place to have a blank canvas,” Hudgison said.
Ledger-Enquirer archives were used in this report.