FARR WEST — The cleanup of the old Swift buildings in Ogden has some in Farr West wondering about the new city park taking shape on land previously connected to the prior owner of that Ogden property.
For sure, nothing concrete has emerged to suggest the land where Smith Family Park sits south of 4000 North in Farr West’s northern reaches is tainted.
“It’s a beautiful place,” said Farr West Mayor Lee Dickemore, who stresses the turnaround of the property since the city acquired it in 2014 from Smith and Edwards Co., headquartered just to the east.
John Stewart, however, who’s a former Farr West mayor and member of a citizens’ committee that aided in park development, started having questions after news emerged last July of the massive federal cleanup at the Swift structures in west Ogden. The city of Ogden acquired the Swift property in 2017 from Utah-Smith, an entity previously headed by Bert Smith, who also founded Smith and Edwards, prior owner of the land that’s now home to Smith Family Park.
Stewart remembers the old Smith and Edwards land before Farr West got it as disheveled. It was an open, weed-covered field that also contained piles of cement chunks, old railroad ties and trusses, he said. He doesn’t remember anything like stockpiled drums or other containers, however, as found in the old Swift buildings when cleanup started there late last March.
Even so, the Ogden turn of events gave him pause.
“Then all of a sudden you start wondering. If it’s there (at the Swift buildings) why isn’t it there (on the Smith Family Park land)?” he said.
Bonnie Beal, too, started having questions. She’s a former member of the Farr West Planning Commission and, in that capacity, took part in a walk-through of the property as the city was in the process of acquiring the land to convert it into Smith Family Park.
She had doubts even before news of the Swift cleanup, headed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, came to public light. “I considered it kind of suspect ... it just did not give me a good warm fuzzy that there could be no issues,” she said. “What I remember, I remember a mess.”
“Bonnie Beal asked what kind of hazardous material was located at the Smith Family Park. She also asked if the chemicals at this location and other locations were identified and cleaned up correctly,” the minutes read.
The minutes don’t indicate any of the officials present responded.
“The whole reaction from the mayor and City Council was, ‘It’s fine. Don’t worry. We’re moving on,’” Beal said.
Ryan Shaw, the city attorney for Farr West, cautions against jumping to conclusions about the park property based on the Swift cleanup and prior ownership of both properties by entities connected to Bert Smith.
“Simply because Mr. Smith owned a piece of property — to make a connection between that and the Swift building is probably at a minimum inappropriate and could be reckless,” Shaw said.
Shaw, for his part, remembers the land where Smith Family Park now sits as undeveloped and largely vacant, though it contained old railroad ties and wood trusses. There were no red flags that he remembers when the city acquired the land, no signs that drums or other containers holding liquids were being stored there, as at the Swift structures.
Likewise, Craig Smith, the current president of Smith and Edwards, bristles at suggestions that the land formerly owned by his company had major issues. Yes, wood was piled on it as well as old railroad ties. Some people, unfortunately, dumped garbage on the land. That was the extent of it, though.
“Nothing that couldn’t be cleaned up,” Smith said.
Stewart and Beal, though, would like to see testing completed of the park soil, to put their questions to rest, if nothing else.
Smith and Edwards donated 27 acres to Farr West for development of Smith Family Park, measuring around 32 acres in all counting additional land the city acquired for it. Leaders formally inaugurated the park on Oct. 10, 2018, though some work continues. Among the many features, some completed some still in the works, are a playground, fishing pond, athletic fields, basketball courts and more.
The cleanup of the Swift buildings started on March 29, and the online EPA report on efforts from Sept. 5 shows the agency found 97,769 containers of materials, including potential explosives, flammable substances and more. Processing is complete, though some of the materials — believed to include surplus U.S. Department of Defense items — still need to be disposed of.