Appraisal next for Lehigh site


Local News

August 15, 2018 - 11:11 AM

Allen County commissioners agreed Tuesday to pay half the cost for an appraisal of about 250 acres contained in the old Lehigh Cement Company complex, including its 100-acre lake created more than 40 years ago by allowing the quarry to fill with water.
Iola Industries came into control of the property in 1971 when the cement plant went out of business.
It offered to sell the property to the county a week ago for $1.4 million, with the thought that commissioners would make the lake available for public recreation. Allen County has no comparable body of water open to public use. Nearby property holds the Lehigh Portland Trails, a maze of hiking and biking routes.
“I’d be glad to vote today” to buy the property, said Chairman Tom Williams, in his last

meeting as a commissioner, but allowed it likely was too soon for other commissioners, Jerry Daniels and John Brocker, to jump aboard.
Brocker said he would be reluctant to make any move until the property was appraised, an outcome Mary Kay Heard, Iola Industries board member, said might cost $10,000. Brocker, a Realtor, agreed: “It could range that much.”
Meanwhile, County Counselor Alan Weber urged every aspect of negotiations should be pursued.
John McRae, another Iola Industries board member, mentioned the property could be sold at auction, “but our board members would rather it stay as a recreation site.”
The mission of Iola Industries is to promote growth in the local business community. It began in 1955 and has since worked to attract industries and manufacturers such as Columbia Metals, Gates Corporation, Russell Stover Candies, Sonic Sales and Kneisley Manufacturing, among others.
This isn’t the first time the local group has tried to get a public entity to assume control of the quarry. In 1978, members asked the state Fish & Game Commission to take title of the quarry for the purpose of a state park. After visiting the site, commissioners said the site was not large enough to be designated as a state park but encouraged Iola Industries to retain it as a source of fresh water. The city of Iola also has a contract with the group that allows it access to the lake in case it needs its water.
Iola Elks have leased the lake for years at a cost of $1 a year. Most often its events have excluded the public.
If auctioned, McRae added, “it would be gone forever.”
Iola Industries purchased the property after the cement plant closed in 1971. To help recoup the purchase price of $275,000, they auctioned off the cement plant’s personal property including the cement remaining in the silos, as well as coal, gypsum, a generator, bricks, office furniture and even the copper wire from throughout the plant, according to a history of Iola Industries.
Soon after, Gates Rubber Company arrived in Iola and took possession of property west of the quarry and today has better than 600 employees, operating as Gates Corporation and manufacturing many types of industrial hoses.
“We (Iola Industries board members) met Friday and we understand the county needs to do due diligence and (consider) public purpose,” McRae said.
A vote to order and participate in an appraisal was unanimous, 3-0.
County commissioners find themselves in an interesting position, with Williams leaving the board and Brocker, who lost in the Republican primary to Bruce Symes, on the commission only until early January.
Also, Daniels has a Democrat opponent in Michael Bruner, as does Symes in Steve Henderson. Thus, it is conceivable the commission could have three new commissioners come early January, a possibility that may enter the equation of sitting commissioners when they consider a financial outlay as significant as purchasing the Lehigh property.
Last week, Daniels equated the Lehigh property to farm ground, noting in good stead it fetches about $3,000 an acre. Williams said then he thought $800,000 might be an appropriate price.

IN OTHER business, commissioners:
— Approved their 2019 budget after a public hearing, during which citizen Larry Walden admonished them to use substantial reserves created by Enbridge Pipeline’s assessed valuation and subsequent tax payments that pushed county reserves to the neighborhood of $4 million, to cut property tax levies. He theorized commissioners could cut the general fund levy by 7 mills without endangering county finances. Robert Gehrt asked about disparities between cash infusion and projected expenditures, which apparently came about because of cash carryover, another aside of Enbridge payments. After a few minutes’ discussion commissioners approved the budget, which was detailed previously in the Register.
— Agreed to make good on a promise to meet up to $10,000 in donations for a memorial veterans garden behind the veterans wall on the south courthouse lawn. Alana Kinzle, who has led a campaign for the wall, said donations now exceeded $10,000, and that Iola Elks, in addition to donating $1,000, had volunteered to help with construction.
— Told Maynard Cress, representing Logan Township Fire District, they would fund construction, by public works employees and equipment, of a circular drive to make it easy to pump water from a private quarry near Petrolia, owned by Nelson Quarries. Cress said that would greatly improve ability to fight fires.
— Appointed Undersheriff Roy Smith to the Juvenile Advisory Board, and will seek a volunteer to serve on the Area Agency on Aging board.
— Found 25 — 19 Republican and six Democrat — provisional ballots acceptable; 11 were rejected. A task of commissioners is to canvass votes not counted Election Day. The outcome led to no changes. Six of 11 Republicans voting in the gubernatorial primary favored Gov. Jeff Colyer, five Kris Kobach. Brocker drew six votes in the commission race, Symes five.

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