Photo courtesy of The Daily News
KELSO, WASHINGTON – "Some things just have to go," Hank Hooper told The Daily News a couple of years ago. At the top of the his list was Terry's Salvage Yard on the north side of Kelso, a city of just under 12,000 nearly 50 miles north of Portland, 60 miles west of Mt. St. Helens on the banks of both the Columbia and Cowlitz rivers.
Like any community, Kelso has its beauty spots. Terry's isn't on the list. Exactly the opposite, especially after closing its doors and being abandoned by its owners for seven years. Most of the vehicles have been removed, reported The Daily News, but not a "ramshackle" house, sagging fence, rusting oil drums, broken glass, car parts and, yes, 8,000 tires that "littered" the lot. Not a pretty site.
Blighted properties aren't good for property values nor for the face a community presents to the world. When one building falls into disrepair, others usually follow. And pretty quick. The City of Kelso, no surprise, had tried to be aggressive in preventing and combating blight, contacting property owners, encouraging them to take charge and fining them if they didn't. Just as it did with the absentee owner of Terry's. To no avail. In arrears on its property taxes, the City seized the lot.
In 2009 the Congress passed and President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act which included funds for a HUD Neighborhood Stabilization Program to provide local governments with the resources to reclaim, rehab and re-sell abandoned or foreclosed homes and, even more to Kelso's liking, combat blight. "Not wasting any time," as one city official told The Daily News, the City moved "aggressively" with $65,300 in NSP funds to demolish the dilapidated buildings and remove all the junk at Terry's in late 2010.
Photo courtesy of The Daily News
That was the easy part. Auto salvage yards are hard on the land. Day in, day out, the ground is soaked with motor oil, gasoline, solvents and fluids that make a car run but soil go toxic.
In the wrecking business since the 1950's, Terry's soil was really bad. The State Department of Ecology rates sites. A score of 5 means it's clean, a score of 1 means that it's hazardous with a capital "H." Terry's said the Department of Ecology, scored a 2, a hazard that needs to be remediated.
With the soil contaminated two-feet-deep, there was remediation to be done. And lots of it. The work began last September thanks to considerable financial support from the Washington Department of Ecology and EPA. Remediation is completed and the site is clean and ready to be "re-purposed."
So, what's next? Affordable housing. Lower Columbia Community Action has an impressive track record, having rehabilitated 100 homes and developed affordable housing for more than 400 families. And it was a critical role in the City's use of NSP funds to reclaim, rehab and re-sell foreclosed houses.
Now it's ready to "grow" a new homeownership community. This summer, with HOME and Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity funds from HUD, Lower Columbia CAP and the brains, sweat and time of a corps of volunteers will start construction on eight "cottages" of up to 1,200 square-feet that will be sold at an affordable price to eligible families.
Once an eye-sore, the site is now a bye-sore. Once a community liability, now it's an asset. Once a place people wanted to avoid, now it's a place where people want to be, a place for families to call home.