Baker soil tested for aviation fuel deemed safe

Soil in a residential neighborhood saturated with aviation fuel during a June 2013 plane crash was tested by state Department of Environmental Quality officials shortly after the crash happened and deemed safe for the neighbors.

Greg Langley, a spokesman for DEQ, said the agency took soil samples from land on Rue Jennifer and Rue Nicole and had them tested for environmental safety following the fatal plane crash that killed Mississippi pilot John Carey Fowler, 71. None of the residents in the neighborhood were injured.

Langley said the tests on the soil samples revealed the fuel posed no hazardous threats to the residents at the site.

The question of safety and aviation fuel came up Tuesday night at the Baker City Council meeting when city officials discussed lack of progress at one of the three homes damaged by the plane in the crash — cleanup at the site has not begun.

Neighbors on Rue Jennifer and Rue Nicole have complained about the property at 5404 Rue Jennifer, which was hit by the plane during the crash.

It’s been seven months since the crash, but the home still looks like it did right after it occurred. The property is also littered with debris from the house and garbage bags filled with the personal belongings of the previous residents.

The house and property are owned by the Rev. Michael L. Smith, pastor of the New Covenant Christian Center on East Myrtle Avenue in Baker. City officials called Smith and sent him a certified letter asking home to appear at Tuesday’s meeting, but Smith did not show up.

Smith did not return phone calls or emails over the last couple of weeks asking for comment on the property.

Mayor Harold Rideau said he put an item on Tuesday’s agenda addressing the proposed condemnation of Smith’s house because of his own frustrations with the lack of progress on the home as well as complaints from neighbors about the home being an eyesore and a safety hazard for children in the neighborhood.

C ouncil members voted to defer the issue because the council voted unanimously in December to give the owner 90 days to provide the city with a plan for action for the home.

Residents and neighbors Talona Wright, Vanessa Turner and Charles Jones said Tuesday they were not happy with the council’s decision to defer the issue until the 90 days are up. They said seven months has been too long a time for the house to be in such disrepair.

On Friday, Rideau and Baker City Councilman John Givens, whose district the neighborhood is in, said he has not heard from Smith.

“I can’t figure out what’s going on. We will probably have to tear the house down. If he plans on doing nothing, I wish he would come and tell us,” Rideau said Friday.

Givens said he called him a couple of times but can’t get in touch.

“He’s got the city on hold here. I just want to talk to him so he can give us a reason. If it’s a legitimate reason, I would understand, but we need to find out,” Givens said.

Baker City Attorney Ken Fabre, who said he is a friend of Smith’s and has counseled him in the past on legal matters but is not representing Smith in regards to the plane crash, said Smith does not legally have to do anything with the house.

Fabre said if Smith chooses to do nothing, city officials could vote to condemn the property, tear it down and then charge any expenses incurred back to Smith on his tax bill.

According to a preliminary crash report by the National Transportation and Safety Board, the Beechcraft B200GT King Air plane took off from the Baton Rouge Metro Airport and first hit a home on Rue Nicole before crashing into two homes on Rue Jennifer.

Smith’s home had the most damage.

The plane was owned by Mississippi businessman Claude Penn, who had just purchased it in Austin, Texas.

Penn couldn’t be reached for comment, but his friend, lobbyist Alton Ashy, said that following the crash, Penn turned over the matter to his insurance company.