July 08, 1999

Public will soon see decree easing Avtex liabilities

Consent decree Will be important in opening Superfund site to reuse

By Diane Hartson

A consent decree about the Avtex Fibers Superfund site touted as paving the way for the release of portions of the site for reuse will be made public Friday, a federal official said Wednesday.

Justice Department spokeswoman Christine Romano said the decree also will ease liability problems that have held up the release of cleaned portion for redevelopment.

The inch-thick decree will be released at a news conference Friday morning at the former rayon plant. Joel Gross, head of Justice's Environmental Enforcement Section, will announce the provisions included in the decree.

Environmental Protection Agency spokesman Richard Kuhn said several agency officials, including Abe Ferdas, hazardous site cleanup division director, will be on hand.

Officials said earlier that an agreement concerning the split of the costs of cleaning up the site between the federal government and FMC Corp., a former owner of the site, would be announced Friday.

"FMC is agreeing to do the cleanup and share in a burden of the costs," Ms. Romano said.

The decree also will "speak to the future ownership of the site" and will "solve a big chunk of the liability issue," she said.

Warren County hopes to take ownership of cleaned portions of the site to implement a detailed plan for the redevelopment of Avtex. That plan calls for a mix of commercial, light industrial and even recreational uses, phased in as land is released.

"It does address the liability. It paves the way. It gets that out of the way," Ms. Romano said of the decree.

But she declined to detail what other issues are addressed in it.

"The attorneys who have been working on this assure me this will be great news for the community," she said.

FMC spokeswoman Judy Gretch said the decree also will speed up resolution of another legal stumbling block, the bankruptcy agreement pending in federal court.

The plant was declared a federal Superfund site in 1986. In 1989, Avtex Fibers voluntarily closed the plant after more than 2,000 violations of environmental laws. But shortly after closing the plant, Avtex declared bankruptcy and the 440-acre site has been tied up in bankruptcy proceedings ever since.

The decree and the bankruptcy agreement "have been on parallel tracks," Ms. Gretch said. "Now people will be able to concentrate" on the second issue and resolve it. She predicted that the bankruptcy agreement would be finished within the next month or two.

County Attorney Douglas W. Napier said a third legal document being negotiated is also moving ahead. That legal paper will allow the county to take over the first clean section of the site.

"The county has prepared its draft," he said. "We have sent it to FMC and EPA for their review. We have not gotten that back yet."