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Mayor’s plan would support Rail Yards clean-up

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

It will cost an estimated $8 million to $9 million to remove lead-based paint, asbestos and soil contamination at the city-owned Rail Yards site. The project could get a big boost under a capital improvement plan pitched by the mayor.

In his first general obligation bond package proposal since taking office, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller is seeking about $5.5 million for redevelopment efforts at the Rail Yards, a 27.3-acre property in the Barelas neighborhood.

The city is also seeking $15 million in state money from the Legislature for the redevelopment work.

Keller has talked about investing in the Rail Yards since he was on the campaign trail in 2017, and his administration last year severed a contract with the private developer hired in 2012 to reinvigorate the property, putting the city back in control of the process.

The city has added round-the-clock security at the Rail Yards and begun demolishing smaller, nonhistoric structures.

But any significant rehabilitation will require abating lead-based paint and asbestos in the existing buildings and removing contaminants from the soil.

“That is where we have to start,” said Carmelina Hart, a spokeswoman for the city Planning Department. She said that it’s not yet clear how long the clean-up would take.

“It’s hard to put something like this on a timeline. It is just a large project, and sometimes you just have to move as quickly as the remediation will let you.”

An environmental assessment conducted last summer by an outside firm estimated that cleaning up just the northern half of the site would cost about $4.2 million. The city says a complete property remediation would run about twice that – $8 million to $9 million.

The Rail Yards request is part of Keller’s $127 million capital recommendation that is also heavy on road improvements, and family and community service projects.

The City Council last week held a public hearing on the proposal and will make its own markups before discussing the plan again Feb. 21.

The general obligation bond package ultimately approved by the council will go before voters this November.

Keller’s proposal would devote $37.3 million to the Department of Municipal Development for street and bridge upgrades, median landscaping, and other related work.

It would put almost $50 million into community facilities, with large portions going to the International District Library ($5.5 million), affordable housing projects ($5 million) and a new homeless facility ($7 million).

Keller’s administration and some city councilors have publicly expressed the need for a more centrally located homeless shelter to replace the existing facility at an old jail about 20 miles away from Downtown. That West Side facility – now sleeping about 325 people each night – is expanding from a winter-only to year-round operation. But that runs $4.5 million annually, and transporting people to and from the shelter accounts for about a quarter of the cost.

The city is also asking for state capital money for that project as well, but Albuquerque’s Family and Community Services Director Carol Pierce said it is still probably two or three years out.

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