Picture clears -- a little -- for Norwalk Foundry

NORWALK Tracking down the owner of the Norwalk Foundry property feels like chasing a ghost.
Cory Frolik
May 24, 2010

 

NORWALK

Tracking down the owner of the Norwalk Foundry property feels like chasing a ghost.

Basic gumshoe strategies of the Internet and directory searches turn up dead-end leads.

The last-known owner's name, ominously enough, is Charles Doom.

Calls made to a Michigan phone listing for Doom were not returned.

Doom is the last known living shareholder of the Norwalk Foundry, 53 Newton St., which closed by the early 90s, Huron County treasurer Kathleen Schaffer said. The factory owners stopped paying taxes on the property about the same time they shut its doors.

By now, the foundry has amassed a whopping $86,400 in back taxes.

The loss of property taxes is troublesome because a huge chunk of the money -- about 65 percent -- goes to local school districts, Schaffer said.

"They get distributed to the various taxing subdivisions like the schools, MRDD, different villages and cities in the county," Schaffer said.

After filing a foreclosure complaint in September 2007, Schaffer won the judgment in March of this year. After more than two decades of sitting vacant, the property is finally heading to the auction block on Monday.

But banks often foreclose on personal property within six months of the mortgage going unpaid, Schaffer said.

So why did it take so long to foreclose on the foundry?

The Norwalk Foundry saga began in the 1990s, when a group of Michigan-based investors bought out the corporation, sold the assets and closed the plant down, said Bethany Dentler, Norwalk's economic development director.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency then demanded clean-up of the property, which was previously used for metal forging. County officials chose not to foreclose on the property, likely because of fear of potential liability, Dentler said.

Underground storage tanks at the site were feared to have the potential to leak petroleum or other contaminants into the Huron River, Norwalk officials said. By 2003, it was clear that Norwalk Foundry stockholders had no intention of paying overdue taxes -- so city officials took matters into their own hands.

Dentler and other local officials secured a $256,000 state grant for an environmental assessment of the property. They also secured a $200,000 grant from the EPA to remove the underground tanks.

Using that money, the city investigated the site for environmental hazards, ultimately finding no ground water contamination -- only about 12-15 "hot spots." Hot spots are petroleum-contaminated areas.

These problems still remain for the next owner to inherit. The cost of sanitizing the property is difficult to calculate because it depends on what is done to the property, Dentler said.

"If they want to demolish the building, remove the soil and clean the hot spots, that's going to be one cost," Dentler said. "If the new owner wants to demolish the building and pave over the site, which would be an acceptable environmental remedy, it would be another cost."

County and city officials hope a buyer will emerge at Monday's sheriff's sale to take the property off their hands. The bidding price will start at a level high enough to cover the $86,400 in back taxes and a $35,000 lien on the property.

After draining hundreds of thousands from the federal, state and local governments, the Norwalk Foundry may finally stop being the treasurer's No. 1 nuisance.

But many more delinquent businesses and property remain in Huron County, owing about $2.3 million in back taxes.

The second-largest of these, a New London sword-maker known as Fraternal Supplies, owes $49,194.