EDA relieved of liability for Avtex contamination

By Diane Hartson

The Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority and the town and county are breathing easier now that a long awaited agreement from the federal government not to hold any of them liable for past contamination at the Avtex Fibers Superfund site is ready for approval.

The liability issue has been the stumbling block for many years during efforts to transfer the 500-acre property to local ownership.

Local officials were unwilling to take the site for redevelopment with a potential future liability.

The Federal Superfund Act holds any new owners liable for past contamination discovered after they take ownership.

However, a prospective purchaser agreement that includes lifting of the liability has been drafted.

Called a "covenant not to sue," it is the final step needed before the authority can take ownership of the property.

A federal bankruptcy court judge last month approved the ownership transfer.

Authority Director Stephen A. Heavener said that the transfer of property ownership will likely take place late in February.

"Once the Town council, the Board of Supervisor and the EDA approves the (purchase agreement), we will send it back to the Justice Department and the EPA," Heavener said. "It will have to be published in the Federal Register for 30 days. With the holidays, it will be late February before the property can to go closing."

Heavener said that the authority will be renovating the front office building on Kendirck Lane. Half will be used by the authority and half by FMC Corp., which has signed a 10-year lease for its share of the building.

FMC Corp., a former owner of the site, is responsible for a portion of the cleanup costs and under a consent order issued this summer has taken over responsibility for the remaining cleanup at the site.

Heavener said he hopes to begin removing asbestos and lead paint in February before actually taking ownership.

"Then we can start mobilizing the renovation contractors" in March, he said.

The front office building renovation is to be competed by June 1.

The authority is slated to vote on approving the purchase contract


"Im about 100 percent certain that by next Friday there will not be any substantive issues" over the property takeover, Heavener said.