Article date: November 24, 1999

Judge approves transfer of Avtex site

Site can be prepared for redevelopment

By Diane Hartson

Front Royal and Warren County officials rejoiced Tuesday as a federal bankruptcy court judge in Pennsylvania approved the transfer of the Avtex Fibers Superfund site in town to local hands.

Now, its time to prepare the site for redevelopment, officials said.

"Definitely were all very, very happy," Front Royal Warren County Economic Development Authority Director Stephen A. Heavener said in a telephone interview as he returned from the hearing in Reading, Pa. "Its been a long, long, process to get to this point."

U.S. District Judge Thomas Twardowski approved the bankruptcy settlement plan that calls for transferring ownership of about 500 acres of Avtex land to the authority.

He approved all of the related documents, including a real estate transfer contract and environmental covenants on uses of the land, and signed a court order that ensures the land transfer will take place, Heavener said.

Authority Chairman Richard P. "Rick" Novak said the court order marks the end of a long struggle and the beginning of transforming the site into a business park and recreation area.

Its amazing what this community can do when it puts its mind to something," he said. "Now the work is just beginning."

Fred Foster, who led the fight to have the site cleaned up and redeveloped said he was thrilled.

"It took a long time, but I guess anything good is worth waiting for," he said. "Weve still got a lot of work to do."

The next step will be signing of a prospective purchaser agreement, which Heavener said will be delivered to the authority by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in December. That document will ensure that the authority and two local governments wont be held liable for any past pollution discovered on the site.

The agreement will be signed by Dec. 15 and a 30 day public comment period will follow, Heavener said. The real estate closing will take place between Jan.15 and Jan.30, he said.

Meanwhile, Heavener said he will prepare for the renovation of the front office building on Kendrick Lane, the first project in the planned 20-year redevelopment of the site.

Last week, he and representatives of an architectural firm that specializes in environmentally sensitive development discussed the office building project, he said.

" We want that building to be a demo project," he said. "With the national visibility of this project, we want high standards."

The building should be finished by the summer. The authority will use half the building and FMC Corp., a former owner of the Avtex site and the cleanup supervisor , will lease the other half.

The authority plans to develop the eastern half of the Avtex land as a business park with a hotel and conference center and the western half as a nature preserve and recreation area.

The authority has received about $12 million in federal money to remove asbestos and demolish several buildings on the eastern half.

Novak said officials expect the development of the site to be a model for revitalizing contaminated sites.

"Were the poster child for redevelopment of Superfund sites and were not just little old Front Royal," he said. "Its really exciting that Front Royal and Warren County are in that limelight. Lets take advantage of it and do a good job."