Local health department officials are trying to get the owner of the former Kewanee Boiler property to clean up a water well it says was left abandoned after a salvage operation undertaken there last year.
But so far, the department has had limited success in even contacting the owner of the property, let alone getting an agreement to properly fill the well.
“I don’t think this owner wants to be responsible,” said Dorothy David, director of environmental health with the Henry and Stark Counties Health Department.
The health department sent a first letter to the owner on July 1 after city officials reported that a structure that covered the well had been removed during the demolition and salvage process carried out by Illinois-based Womack Wrecking, which had purchased the property from an out-of-town buyer who had purchased the 33-acre site at 101 Franklin St. in the annual county tax sale.
The company responded to that letter by claiming it had sold the property in question on May 11.
So a second letter was sent to that alleged owner, who produced proof that only a portion of the Boiler property had been transferred in the sale, and not the parcel that the well sits on.
David said the health department sent an updated letter to the principal owner on Aug. 6 and still is awaiting a response.
She said the department must follow a legal process that involves multiple attempts to contact the owner asking the well be properly sealed.
“We have sent out a notice that this needs to be sealed within 30 days,” she said. “I’m still waiting to hear from then.”
City officials claim that they made it abundantly clear to the developer that the wellhouse structure was not to be removed during the demolition process. In fact, they say special a permit would have been needed to do so -- but that permit was never sought.
“They were not supposed to damage that building,” said Keith Edwards, the city’s director of community development. “There are rules that must be followed.”
Public Works Director Rod Johnson, who initially noticed the well issue during a post-demolition inspection, said the city had shared those rules with the developer prior to work starting.
“There’s a procedure you have follow for an abandoned well before it can be capped off,” Johnson said. He said he found the wellhouse removed and the remaining well hole covered with debris from the site.
Johnson said the current state of the well is not only a safety concern of someone falling in, but there is the potential groundwater and nearby wells could be contaminated because it wasn’t filled properly.
The issue becomes more prominent considering the Boiler property has been an industrial site for many companies over the years.
“There’s the potential of something getting in there, Johnson said. “You just don’t know what runoff can do or where it will go.”
He said the Boiler property well is especially deep -- as much as 2,000 feet according to some records -- which means it could be sharing the same aquifer source as the city’s drinking supply.
“It was built so long ago that not even the state has that great of records about how deep it goes,” he said.
Johnson said there are other issues involved, including that some of the scrap metal taken during the demolition process -- like old manhole covers -- were actually part of the city’s system and shouldn’t have been taken.
“Our main concern is that there isn’t any imminent danger,” he said.
David said the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has been apprised of the situation but it has not yet conducted any test of the well water. She said the IEPA continues its normal monitoring of the city’s water supply, which should flag any major contaminant level fluctuations.
She said the department had referred a complaint about well contamination on the property in 2017, though she is unsure of the outcome of the agency’s investigation or how it was resolved.
She it’s important to identify the source of any contamination early.
“We don’t know what groundwater is connected to another well,” she said. “That’s why we make sure they are sealed properly.”
She said on-site testing is made difficult because of the debris pile and the fact the well has no working pump to even get at the water inside. The well could be remediated by filling it with approved materials and capping it.
“He sort of half-sealed, so right now it would be very difficult to take a well sample,” she said.
David said she will continue to follow the legal process, which includes a requirement the health department sends three notices to the owner asking for an acceptable plan of action.
If that doesn’t happen, then the department would take the next step of contacting the Henry County State’s Attorney for a legally binding order.
“We’ve never had to go through that route before,” she said. “Right now I’m just waiting to hear from him.”