The Northern Virginia Daily

July 29, 1999

Cash and soccer: a winning ticket

By Teresa Brumback

The Warren Sentinel

The vision of molding the Avtex Superfund site into a model business and recreational park is one step closer to reality, thanks to a major financial contribution from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and a new national program to create community soccer facilities on former toxic sites.

A host of high-ranking public officials, including U.S. senators John Warner, R-Va., and Charles S. Robb, D-Va., joined Carol Browner, EPA administrator, last week in announcing a pilot EPA program aimed at helping communities redevelop Superfund sites into parks, neighborhoods, or thriving commercial districts. The July 23 press conference, which included a catered lunch, was held in an air-conditioned tent set up on the Avtex site.

Under the program, Front Royal and Warren County will be the first of 10 communities with Superfund sites to receive $100,000 grants for site redevelopment. By the end of 2000, nearly $5 million in grants will be awarded to 50 communities nationwide. These grants will be awarded to communities on a competitive basis.

Each community will receive up to $100,000 in the form of a cooperative agreement with local government to conduct reuse assessments. The Front Royal/Warren County Economic Development Authority will have stewardship over the local grant monies.

"What this… will do is encourage communities to develop their reuse plans early in the clean-up process, making it easier to tailor the restoration to the Proposed redevelopment," Browner said.

Partnering the redevelopment programs will be the United States Soccer Federation Foundation. Daniel T. Flynn, executive director of the group, announced at the press conference a major national program to design and construct community soccer fields on redeveloped Superfund sites throughout the country. Avtex will be the first site to receive the assistance of the USSF Flynn said.

And, to further private involvement in Superfund site redevelopment, Congress is considering a new plan to create "Better America Bonds." The bonds would be an innovative structure of tax credits designed to attract private investment in support of local efforts to help develop the toxic sites for public uses such as parks and playing fields.

A local plan has already been developed with the help of a consultant to turn Avtex into a waterfront business and recreation park with a hotel and conference center, industrial park, homes, office space, walking trails, boat landing and public recreation area. The community soccer complex is expected to cover about 25 acres, and include 10-12 playing fields.

"Think about it," said Browner. "This land – once a health hazard to the community – will now be home to soccer fields where our kids will come to play a great sport, and get healthy and stay healthy. This

Land – once idle and unproductive – will also soon be home to a hotel and conference center that will generate jobs and tax revenue for the Front Royal community and Northern Virginia. And this land that was once an eyesore that people avoided will now be home to shared greenspace where neighbors can gather and form those ties that bind a community together."

Once the nation’s largest producer of high-tenacity carbonized rayon, Avtex was shut down by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality on Nov. 10, 1989, after being cited for dozens of emmisions violations. Avtex’s end was a major blow to the local economy.

"This plant allowed people to put food on the table, and have a roof over their heads," noted Vice Mayor Tony Carter who moderated the press conference, attended by a crowd of about 300, including hundreds of members of the Warren County Youth Soccer League.

Carter thanked former mayor Stan Brooks Jr., William Barnett, outgoing chairman of the Front Royal-Warren County EDA, and Fred Foster, chairman of the Warren County Redevelopment Corp., for their efforts in revitalizing the site.

Since the plant’s closure, redevelopment of the site has been bogged down by government studies, removal work and cleanup, while local officials have been anxious to retool the site into productive use.

But now, Carter said, Front Royal, "is entering the dawn of a new day." The redevelopment of Avtex, he said, will enable the town and Warren County "to be known as a great place to live, work and play."

Following Friday’s press conference, Browner said Avtex was chosen as the place of the announcement because of it’s proximity to Washington and because the site was at a pivotal point in its future re-use.

She said the new program represents a change in EPA philosophy, which she has steered over the last six years. Before, the government focused its attention on actual cleanup of Superfund sites. Now, the goal is to shift the focus to productive, economic re-use under which communities become key players in shaping the outcome.

"It’s just not enough to clean up these sites," she told The Warren Sentinel after the conference. "We will incorporate redevelopment plans earlier in the process."

What that means, she said is that the actual work of "moving dirt" will begin earlier than it has before. The grants will "bring the financial community" to the table earlier in the process of redeveloping the sites.

"We are cutting the crown jewel in the Valley of Virginia with this magnificent partnership," said U.S. Sen. W. John Warner, R-Va.

The senator said he has a personal interest in seeing the Shenandoah River near Avtex return to a haven for bass fishing. Warner’s family farm, on which his son now lives, is along the river near Milldale.

"(Avtex) was built here and bass fishing all but stopped," Warner said of Avtex. ‘The effluent killed the fish."

Fishermen are cautioned not to consume what they catch from the river, which is still under a warning for PCB pollution. PCBs – cancer-causing chemicals – were among the pollutants Avtex released into the river before it was shutdown.

Warner said he had fond memories of the pole-driven wooden boat he used to fish from as a child. "I want to bring back fishing. God give me the strength again to get in that boat on the river, and pole, and catch a bass that BIG!" he said, holding his arms wide, to loud applause.

U.S. Sen. Charles S. Robb, D-Va., said a partnership involving the community, private industry and government at Avtex will work because the community will develop a vested interest in the project.

"This involves the community in the reclamation of the site."

He said he will work in Congress to help steer additional funds from the federal government into the site’s redevelopment.

Creating community recreational facilities on the sites is another way to make sure they are fully utilized. Soccer fields are a perfect choice, considering the popularity of the sport right now, Flynn said. The growth of Youth soccer has been explosive.

"And now, with the U.S. Women’s National team winning the World Cup in such a dramatic fashion, interest in playing soccer among young girls and boys is only going to continue to grow," said Flynn.

The Soccer Federation’s engineers were at Avtex last weekend, Flynn said, "kicking the dirt" to begin the design of the new fields.

Vice Mayor Carter said the fields will cover about 25 acres, but few details were available about the cost or extent of the project.

"I’ve heard there’s a potential for 10 to 12 fields," he said. "I assume they will be built in stages."

The new fields will be built at Stump Field, next to Avtex, which is used along with some county school fields for practices and games.

About 500 children in Warren County are involved in youth soccer, said Nick Crettier, president of the Warren County Youth Soccer League.

Soccer coach and Front Royal attorney Brian Madden said the fields at Stump Field are now in terrible shape, with pieces of glass on the fields that are so heavily played they are nothing but dirt by the end of the season. Some fields slope downhill, he said and the terrain is rough.