September 18, 1999

Avtex bankruptcy case will not meet deadline

By Diane Hartson

Tuesday’s bankruptcy court-ordered deadline to complete a contract for the transfer of the Avtex Fibers Superfund site in Front Royal to local hands will probably be missed, officials, said.

Local officials were making preparations Friday morning to vote on the purchase contract on Monday. Warren County Attorney Douglas W. Napier said the contract, if approved then, would be "ready to go."

But by late Friday afternoon, those plans had ground to halt and Napier said the contract won’t be ready for the Monday meeting or a hearing Tuesday in federal bankruptcy court in Reading, Pa.

The judge there had ordered that the agreement calling for the transfer of land to local ownership be completed by then.

Front Royal officials had prepared an agenda for a joint open meeting Monday morning with the county Board of Supervisors with one agenda item: approval of the real estate sales contract transferring about 110 acres of the Avtex site to the town-county Economic Development Authority.

Late Friday afternoon, town officials were notified that the contract wouldn’t be ready, Town Attorney W. Todd Benson said. And county officials said the meeting would be a closed work session on the issue with no vote, he said.

Napier said "approvals" were still needed to complete the Avtex legal documents.

"It doesn’t look like there’s any way we’ll have them (needed approvals) by time to go to court on Tuesday,", he said.

Missing from what’s needed to complete the real estate contract are agreements and supporting documents from the FMC Corp., a former plant owner, and the U.S. Justice Department, Napier said.

Those include the purchase agreement and title reports and the restrictive covenants that will govern use of the land, he said.

"Old issues have been coming up we thought we had informally resolved but haven’t been formally resolved," he said. "The bottom line is final documents have not been signed off by everybody."

Asked what reaction he expects when the bankruptcy court judge learns his deadline won’t be met, Napier said, " I think our representation to the judge will be that we are working hard (to complete the agreements.) He told everybody he wanted agreements by the 21st and if we don’t have it, we don’t have it. It’s not from lack of effort. Everybody’s been busting their ‘you-know-whats’ to get the agreements completed.

Napier said he expects the judge to extend the deadline by weeks, not months.

Earlier Friday, Napier was optimistic that the Avtex land transfer would be completed by the end of the year, provided the local government and the authority approved the purchase contract on Monday.

The contract calls for an agreement resolving liability issues to be completed by the end of the year.

The town and county plan to have the authority take ownership of portions of the site as those acres are declared clean. The authority has created a $250,000 plan that calls for the site to be redeveloped with a conference center and recreational uses.

Built in 1940, the former rayon plant was added to the federal Superfund list in 1986 and voluntarily closed its doors in 1989 after more that 2,000 environmental violations.

Included in the first 110 acres expected to be transferred to the authority are the front buildings that faces Kendrick land, a parking lot on the other side of Kendrick Lane, several deteriorating buildings that must be torn down and Ed Stump Park, where soccer fields are planned.