Insurance snafu latest roadblock in re-opening Barrie Park

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"Maybe we should stop talking publicly about an opening date," said Park District of Oak Park Commissioner Mark Gartland, after the park board was presented with the latest roadblock to re-opening Barrie Park.

The glitch now facing the district as it looks to allow public access to at least the playground area of the park in the coming months is an insurance policy technicality. The policy covers any costs associated with lawsuits tied to the cleanup that are filed against the district. The policy won't expire until 2010.

In order to re-open the park, and still keep that policy, the insurer is requiring that "closure" documents be submitted proving that the park has been sufficiently cleaned up and is safe for use.

"The park board is extremely excited about getting the park returned to the community. But the other side of the coin is that the park district needs to be covered by insurance," said Gary Balling, parks executive director. "This is a risk-management issue." 

A manufactured gas plant that operated at the park in the late 19th and early 20th century left contaminants in the ground. The park has now undergone an extensive environmental cleanup project, and is in the process of being restored.

Maggie Carson, spokesperson for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA), said the only official closure document the agency could issue is a No Further Remediation (NFR) letter.

"An NFR is the only legal mechanism that we can use to show that they have complied [with cleanup standards]," Carson said, adding that the agency is still waiting for some paperwork needed to issue an NFR.

She also said it is possible to issue an NFR letter for just a portion of the park, such as the playground.

The other option that would allow for earlier re-opening of the park is for Commonwealth Edison take on legal liability for those portions of the park, which would make the insurance policy for the district no longer necessary, park district officials said last week.

In a letter to the district, Commonwealth Edison agreed to turn over the playground area, at Harvard and Taylor, for public use. But ComEd spokesperson Ernesto Duran said it is the utility's position that liability is an issue between the park district and its insurer.

"We are simply waiting for the park district to sign a turnover letter so we can hand over the property," he said. "We're not going to interfere with the dealings between the park district and its insurance."


Park district officials have expressed concern that the utilities' plan to sample soil in a crawlspace at Barrie Center is insufficient.

ComEd has submitted plans to take two 1- to 12-inch samples from the crawlspace, while the district has proposed taking between four to six 10-foot samples from the building, which is owned by the village, but operated by the parks. Ed Cooney, environmental consultant to the park district, said it is important that samples be taken at that depth, as that is the depth that neighboring homes were tested at.

ComEd spokesperson Ernesto Duran said, however, that its action plan is sufficient, considering there had previously been sampling around the perimeter of the park.

"We've heard some feedback from the side of the village, [which is] ultimately the owner of the property. So we're going to work to find a solution," he said.

In addition, ComEd also stated in a Nov. 29 letter that following a "reconnaissance visit," officials have determined the basement may be a "potential safety or environmental hazard" due to park district actions.

"Hazards" sited included an improperly installed electrical box, spilled oil in the boiler room, a bag of charcoal with lighter fluid, coal fragments, mercury vapor lamps, used fluorescent light bulbs, stored sinks and pipes, and old, potentially lead-based paint.

"The park district has stored and/or spilled various materials in the crawlspace that would be expected to result in 'false positives' for...contaminants of concern," the letters reads. "...Based on presence of the materials and hazards noted above?#34;which are obviously not related to the [Manufactured Gas Plant] site?#34;this space could not be used as a day camp facility in any event."

Park district consultants called the letter "immature" and expressed outrage that ComEd would compare these items to gas plant contaminants.
?#34;Katharine Grayson

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