Foote Homes sitting on contaminated soil, demolition delayed

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The East side of Foote Homes won't be torn down in the next two weeks after all.

It's good news for Sandra Gilley.

"This gives us more time to look."

WREG reported Wednesday, Gilley and others on this side were being forced to relocate twice due to the first phase of demolition.

But after pressing for more clarification on those answers, News Channel 3 learned new, disturbing details.

The ground Gilley's been living on for more than a decade is contaminated.

"It's our understanding the soil may contain hazards that go down about two feet, and that, potentially, the movement of the soil through the work that may be done might create a hazard to our households."

MHA Executive Director Marcia Lewis said they've known about the soil issues for a few weeks, but got more details, so she decided it was best to halt any demolition until all the residents were moved for good.

Lewis said the developer is conducting a full environmental survey, beyond what's required by HUD.

"What we want to know is what is the full condition of the soil? What potentially could be the hazards?"

Lewis said, according to HUD, these sort of environmental problems are common as the original developers of public housing, sadly, didn't put much thought into where they put buildings.

She said, for example, part of Foote Homes was built over a bayou.

"It was a landfill. When they did the work they did a lot of, instead of cleaning up, and hauling away the trash, they dumped it."

Turns out, MHA sent these letters to residents, dated August 25, warning them not dig or let their children play in the dirt.

So, Lewis said she's been assured there shouldn't be an impact for residents who lived at Foote Homes all these years.

It would take significant disturbance of the ground for that to be a problem which is why they won't start demolition until they know more.

"We want to get in front of it. Now that we know, we have an obligation."

The full report should be ready in about 30 days and that's when everyone will know more about the timeline for demolition.