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Bruchey says CSX rejection may have doomed roundhouse

August 14, 1998|By JULIE E. GREENE and TERRY TALBERTs

CSX Real Property's rejection of an offer by the city and Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum officials may have doomed the roundhouse to demolition, Hagerstown Mayor Robert Bruchey said at a news conference Thursday morning.

Asked about odds for further negotiations, Bruchey said, "I'm not a betting man, but I wouldn't bet it will happen."

"There are three losers here," Bruchey said. "The roundhouse museum board of directors, the City of Hagerstown and CSX."

"Given the opportunity to work with CSX without their adamant all-or-nothing proposal, we could have worked something out," Bruchey said.

"We believe on the city's end we have done all we could to make this happen. Our heart goes out to the museum board of directors. We have been behind them all the way."

The CSX property consists of 46 acres of land, which includes the roundhouse and other buildings. The land is valued at about $11,000 an acre, Bruchey said.

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At issue during negotiations was who would pay for cleanup of contaminated ground at the site.

The city has been unwilling to make any deal without knowing exactly what's in the ground, and CSX has been unwilling to conduct tests that would show the extent of underground contamination.

"We're not going to be subject to a multimillion-dollar cleanup," Bruchey said. "That wouldn't be fair to the taxpayers of Hagerstown."

City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said Thursday that the only information CSX has given the city dates back nine years, and consists of a report by an environmental assessment team hired by CSX.

"We know from their report that there are trace levels of heavy metals such as chromium, lead and arsenic on the land," he said. "We don't know what is underground."

Rob Gould, CSX spokesman, and Stephen Thienel, CSX regional vice president for state relations, said Wednesday that the city's offer to take over about 5 acres required CSX to agree to an easement to provide access to the 5 acres.

CSX officials rejected the offer because the easement would have decreased the value of the property and lessened its appeal for development, they said in a telephone interview.

Gould said there's a chance an opportunity could arise to save the roundhouse, but he said CSX is proceeding with asbestos removal in preparation for demolition.

Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum President Bob Tracey said he still hopes to persuade a private organization or developer to assume legal responsibility for the land.

"We're not going to say it's over 'til it's over. If we lose this, we lose a very vital part of tourism and economic development," he said Wednesday.

The roundhouse is part of the largest railroad complex remaining from the steam era and the turntable is the second-longest in the world at about 115 feet, according to museum officials.

Demolition of 13 buildings and two pits on site is scheduled to begin as early as Monday, Zimmerman said.

Asbestos removal on remaining buildings, including the roundhouse, will begin soon. Zimmerman said the city must make sure all asbestos is removed before it issues permits to demolish the remaining buildings.

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