County Judge, Veronica Escobar

  • County sues to get former Playland site cleaned up
    By Tammy Fonce-Olivas / El Paso Times
    El Paso Times

    The county is turning to the courts to try to get Western Playland to pay for the cleanup of its former site at Ascarate Park.

    A lawsuit filed Wednesday by the El Paso County Attorney's Office seeks to have Western Playland pay for the cleanup of the amusement park's former site, $650,000 in revenues the county would have received from Western Playland in 2006 and 2007, and for the county's legal fees connected to the lawsuit.

    County Attorney José Rodríguez said the suit was filed at the request of the County Commissioners Court and is necessary because Western Playland has failed to clear the site, which contains toxic chemicals and structures with asbestos.

    "The bottom line is that what you see here has resulted in the taxpayers being unjustly deprived not only of a proper cleanup but also deprived of gross revenues that the county was entitled to under this contract for 2006 and 2007," Rodríguez said at a news conference in front a partly demolished building at the former amusement park.

    Among the things left at the 15-acre site were piles of debris, partly demolished structures, old tires, broken furniture, bathrooms, concession stands, the front gate building and the Snake Mountain water ride.

    Western Playland owner Pat Thomson said he wasn't obligated to pay for the cleanup because the county terminated its contract with him.

    The county last month evicted Western Playland from the park, giving Thomson 30 days to remove all of his property and clean the site. Thomson said he would be obligated to pay for the cleanup only if he had terminated the contract.

    Rodríguez said the contract was terminated because Western Playland failed to operate the amusement park at the site during 2006 and 2007, and because the business abandoned the premises.

    Thomson also said he tried to clean up the site after receiving the eviction notice, but stopped after workers were accused by county officials of "working illegally," particularly regarding the demolition of a building.

    Thomson explained that workers were cleaning up the site and dismantling a building. He said the building being torn down was among the ones he gave away or sold.

    Thomson said that because the building was no longer his, the new owner was responsible for obtaining the demolition permits.

    Thomson said he could not recall the names of buildings' new owners on Wednesday.

    Rodríguez said Thomson was responsible for the work on the site.

    "In our view Mr. Thomson was illegally dismantling some of these structures. Why do we say illegally? Because he was not in compliance, we contend, with state and local health and safety codes. In fact, the city of El Paso issued a stop order because he had not obtained the proper permits for demolition," Rodríguez said.

    The lawsuit was filed the day after the County Commissioners Court voted to have its purchasing agent search for a company to clean up the site.

    Rodríguez said the cleanup was expected to costs tens of thousands of dollars.

    A closer estimate will not be available until companies seeking the cleanup job submit their bids.

    As for the asbestos, Thomson said, the building containing the substance has not been disturbed.

    "It's in the tile or tile glue. It's not really that big of a deal. We didn't tear those buildings down," Thomson said.

    As to the $650,000 the county is seeking in alleged loss of its contractual share of gross revenues, Thomson said he didn't owe the county anything because the county breached its contract years before he relocated the park to Sunland Park.

    Tammy Fonce-Olivas may be reached at; 546-6362.

  • County Judge
    Veronica Escobar