Bill has money for Avtex demolition


August 06, 1999

Warner's provision allows spending of $17 million on site

By Diane Hartson

U.S. Sen. John W. Warner pushed through legislation Thursday authorizing the spending of $17 million to demolish buildings and clear land at the former Avtex Fibers plant in Front Royal to prepare for redevelopment of the Superfund site.

Local officials hailed the development, contained in a congressional conference report on a water resources act, as a huge step toward reuse of the contaminated site.

The Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority plans to develop the site. The county is expected to take over about 110 acres of it soon.

But a major hurdle has been finding the money to demolish a half million square feet of decaying buildings on the site, which will cost at least $12 million.

"This is fabulous," authority Director Stephen A. Heavener said.

In his "wildest dreams," he said he figured the county would get $3 million to $4 million this year and $3 million to $4 million next year. "This is the missing piece of the puzzle."

Warner said the funds are just a matter of fairness.

"The government has jerked Front Royal around. It's time Uncle Sam stopped jerking the people of Front Royal around," he said. "It's as simple as that."

County Board of Supervisors member Matthew A. Tederick said the money will jump-start the development of the site by five to 10 years.

Fred Foster, a member of the local Redevelopment Corp. who has led the struggle to get the site cleaned up and into reuse for nearly a decade, was ecstatic.

"This is fantastic," he said. "Im going to have to go down there kiss [Warner] on the mouth."

Warner inserted the Avtex provision into a conference report on the Water Resources Development Act of 1999. He was the lead conferee on the bill, which authorizes funding for Army Corps of Engineers civil projects, such as flood control.

The conference report was passed by the Senate on Thursday afternoon.

The Avtex provision authorizes $12 million through the Corps of Engineers and Department of the Army for the "environmental restoration and remediation of the site, including the demolition of buildings."

The corps will work with local officials to remove asbestos and lead in the buildings, demolish the building and clean up the debris, Warnner spokesman Carter Cornick said.

The Army is authorized to spend $5 million through the Department of Defense Environmental Restoration program, which cleans up pollution at military bases. Avtex was once used to make a form of carbonized rayon used in military missiles.

Warner aide Ann Loomis said the senator's provision allows the Avtex site to be qualified for the program, and it adds authorization for the demolition of buildings through the program. Building demolition wasn't allowed in the program before this, she said.

The Environmental Protection Agency last year demolished a number of contaminated buildings at the site, but several remain. The buildings contain asbestos and lead, but the EPA doesn’t remediate those materials.

That meant the local authority, when it took over that section of the site, would have to pay to clean up and tear down the buildings. The authority's redevelopment plan calls for saving only one structure at the former rayon plant: the front building that faces Kendrick Lane.

The remaining buildings are too dilapidated to be salvaged, according to the plan.

Heavener said Warner's legislation will chop at least a few years off the process of opening that area of the site for reuse. It was expected to take up to seven years.

"Four years from now, the Shenandoah Business Park, the fully utilitized business park, will be ready to go," he said. "In less than five years, the eyesores will be gone."

Heavener ,said the $17 million would be the largest single federal allocation to Warren County ever and would "finally give us all the resources to level that site."

Although the demolition of the buildings was initially expected to cost $ 12 million, Heavener said that was a "thumbnail" estimate and that $17 million was likely closer to the actual cost.

More importantly, it would have been difficult with "piecemeal" funding to coordinate the efforts to clear that section of the site with FMC Corp’s. cleanup operations there, he said.

FMC, a former owner of the plant, is responsible for the remaining cleanup at the site under a settlement announced last month.

Warner's legislation is the third big piece of news for the site in recent weeks.

In July, federal and FMC officials announced the settlement, which calls for FMC to pay $63 million toward the cleanup. Three federal agencies will reimburse the company a third of that figure.

Two weeks later, two large grants were announced. The first, a $100,000 EPA grant, will help pay for getting the site back into commercial use and the second, $100,000 from the U.S. Soccer Federation Foundation, will help build soccer fields on the site.

Heavener said FMC has provided the authority with the services of its "very experienced" lobbyists and they have been working on getting money for the building demolition.

Warner said he wanted to help because of his childhood memories of Front Royal.

"I can see myself riding down in my uncle's Model A in 1930 to Front Royal. We would take that Model A across the bridges there and look down and decide which branch had the clearest water," he said. "We would stop and fish. That's among the happiest memories of my life."

Warner said he's seen the town struggle after Avtex was closed, then reopened because Defense Secretary "Caspar Weinberger had to have" it and then closed for good in 1989.

Warner was among those who helped push through funding to keep the Avtex plant open after company officials first threatened to close it. The plant was, at the time, the only source of materials needed in several space and defense programs.

"All the people, the jobs lost, the whole thing was a nightmare," Warner said.

Although the conference report authorizes the spending of $17 million, it's just the first step, Warner said. Legislation appropriating the funds still must be pushed through he said.

He said he and 10th District Rep. Frank R. Wolf will work together to get it appropriated.

Authority member William P. "Bill" Barnett said the authority is ready to redevelop the 440-acre site.

The authority's plan calls for mixed use on the eastern half of the site, including industrial, commercial and office space, and a hotel conference center and recreational uses, including a nature preserve, on the western half.

"This will clearly give us the resources to bring it back to a greenfield state and we know exactly what to do with greenfields in Warren County," Barnett said.