The city might be getting closer to buying a contaminated piece of wasteland Mayor Lewis Billings owns in southeast Provo, which would expedite cleanup of the former steel mill site.

All the parties with a say in the future of the area known as Ironton, except Billings, met behind closed doors Tuesday. The meeting brought the land's former owner, U.S. Steel, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality and the City Council together for the first time.City officials said the meeting was closed because it involved discussion about the purchase of property. They declined to discuss particulars of the meeting. The financial terms, however, were made public six years ago and haven't changed.

Provo bought a $15,000-per-year renewable option on 149 acres of the slag-covered ground from Billings in 1992. The option, which expires in 2000, gives the city the right to buy the property for $3,000 an acre. Officials envision a business park or baseball stadium on the land.

City Attorney Gary Gregerson helped broker an unusual arrangement with Pittsburgh-based U.S. Steel to have the company voluntarily remove hazardous waste from the site. The company manufactured steel at Ironton for 32 years before closing the mill in 1962. It left behind two blast furnaces, a sintering plant, two batteries of coke ovens and other rem-nants.

U.S. Steel has tentatively agreed to work with the EPA and the state environmental quality department to clean up the property at its own expense. It has worked with the two agencies the past two years to determine the level of contamination. The site apparently isn't as polluted as initially suspected. Cleanup costs will be a fraction of $250 million estimate made in the early 1990s.

The agreement with U.S. Steel hinges on Provo first buying the ground.

Provo obtained a $200,000 Brownfields grant from the federal government in 1996. The grant allows cities to redevelop abandoned urban properties known as brownfields. The city can't use the money for cleanup.

Provo would reimburse U.S. Steel for cleanup costs if the city profits from developing the site.

Billings, who served as the Provo chief administrative officer before winning the mayorship in November, has attempted to remove himself from any discussions about the land. Nevertheless, his opponent in the last election made it a campaign issue when he accused Billings of having a conflict of interest.

The opponent, Karl J. Thalman, a former councilman, said the deal should be carefully scrutinized before the city goes through with it. Officials said any decisions about the land will be made in public meetings.

The mayor was en route from the Winter Olympics in Japan Tuesday. He was not expected to attend the meeting had he been in town.