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Lawmaker wants answers on Northwest Plaza project

Lawmaker wants answers on Northwest Plaza project

June 22nd, 2013 in News

ST. LOUIS (AP) - A Missouri House leader has begun an investigation into a state program that subsidizes brownfield redevelopment in the wake of a newspaper report citing problems involving hazardous waste cleanup and demolition of a shopping mall.

Republican Rep. Jay Barnes of Jefferson City, chairman of a House government accountability committee, has given directors of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the Missouri Department of Economic Development until July 18 to turn over records and answer questions about how tax credits valued at nearly $8 million were awarded for the project at Northwest Plaza in St. Louis County.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported the state allowed a single company, Environmental Operations Inc. of St. Louis, to design an asbestos cleanup plan, manage the bid process, and hire itself for the work.

"I think it's better to have more people looking into this from different perspectives," Barnes told the Post-Dispatch, calling it "a fact-finding mission with an attempt to make sure these programs are working as best they can to protect taxpayers."

Meanwhile, Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich's office is also reviewing the DNR's role in brownfield tax credits. Schweich also plans an audit later this year of the brownfield remediation tax credit program within the Department of Economic Development.

The amount of the tax credit was based on Environmental Operations' bid for removing more than 1.1 million square feet of asbestos. After the tax credit was awarded, Environmental Operations amended its plans and sought permits to remove less than half that amount. Officials from competitors said they would have bid much lower for the lesser amount.

Environmental Operations' bid was $288,000 higher than the low bid; the newspaper said the company did not tell the state about the lower bid.

Environmental Operations owner Stacy Hastie told the Post-Dispatch that he should have told the state about the lower bid, even though it failed to meet specifications for the job. He denied overestimating asbestos quantities to get an inflated subsidy.

The newspaper also reported that mall developers Robert and P. David Glarner obtained a lower estimate for demolition from Spirtas Wrecking Co., but did not disclose it to the state. The Glarners did not respond to interview requests.

Spokeswomen for the DNR and the Department of Economic Development did not respond to the newspaper's findings. Gov. Jay Nixon was in Europe on a trade mission and his office said he could not be reached.