Sullivan County hopes to use Brownfields grant funds to rejuvenate the old Davis Pipe site.
Last December, former Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable said NETWORKS charted 654 new jobs, compared to a goal of 500. This year, the old Davis Pipe site is the focus of several economic groups in the county who are hoping to have the place cleaned up and ready for reuse in order to bring new industrial jobs back to Blountville.
The county received a $300,000 EPA Brownfields Assessment grant to determine what can be done about the 80 or so drums of miscellaneous liquids and chemicals stored in an old warehouse building, one of about 10 or so buildings on the site, which covers several acres of land.
Former mayor and current NETWORKS CEO Richard Venable's primary interests in the property were in dealing with the hazardous materials on the property so they could either reclaim delinquent taxes or foreclose and get the property back on the tax roles. "We had a piece of property there at Davis Pipe that had a significant tax lien on it," Venable said, so he had the First Tennessee Development District (FTDD) apply for the grant in order to pay for Phase 1 and Phase 2 assessments.
"Davis Pipe is a little unique in that a significant amount of cleanup occurred a number of years ago under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act program and the property is in operation and maintenance. A large amount of waste was consolidated and capped onsite and the groundwater is being monitored," said Tisha Calabrese-Benton, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC).
Because a significant amount of time has passed since that cleanup, EPA requires these Phase 1 and Phase 2 assessments to be completed and any issues addressed before the county can consider acquiring the property to put it back on the tax rolls, Calabrese-Benton added.
Venable confirmed the initial desire to get the property back on the tax rolls, indicating that the property had a significant tax lien on it. Those delinquent taxes are reportedly owed by the original owner, George McGee, Venable said, to whom the property's ownership reverted after he sold it to a man from Connecticut who died, leaving the property tied up in his estate. Venable admitted he wasn't entirely sure of the current ownership, however, and Calabrese-Benton indicated that current ownership remains with the deceased man.
Although FTDD and TDEC are administering the grant, Venable described NETWORKS as playing more of a "Good Samaritan" role. He brought them in on the project when he was Sullivan County mayor, and Jack Lawson was familiar with the property. The county became involved in the cleanup efforts, Venable said, "because when I was mayor I didn't feel that we should foreclose on a property that might have a hazardous situation.
"Over the next months, we'll determine if it's recoverable land that can be used for industrial development," Venable said. "We think it is."
FTDD wrote the application and completed training with the EPA in Atlanta, according to project administrator Kenneth Ray, who is also mayor of the city of Watauga. Although the EPA only funds 30 percent of these projects, Ray says what helped the Davis Pipe project was that a lot of people felt the site had great potential because "the issues it was facing were not significant environmental issues before it could get back into a productive use."
Also, despite typical Brownfields grants being limited to $200,000, the EPA awarded Sullivan County $300,000 because the project is "scattered," involving several buildings over several acres, and the testing that needs to be done is equally scattered and "fairly extensive," according to Ray.
After Phase 1's completion, a report was sent to the EPA outlining "what's happened in the past" and "where we want to go in the future," Ray added.
Ed Stephens, project manager with the Hart Hickman engineering firm in Charlotte, N.C., contracted to implement the assessments, said Phase 1 is a non-invasive review of database records and files that highlights "potential areas of concern."
Stephens said the report submitted to the EPA on March 21 would have documented the presence of "metals, nickel, arsenic, lead, cadmium, chromium, primarily, potential for acids, nitric acid, hydrofluoric acid, some slight potential for solvents," adding that, primarily, "We're looking at acids and metals, also oils, hydraulic oils, lube oils, machine oils, and they did use solvents such as chlorinated solvents, mineral spirits, that sort of thing."
Before Phase 2 can commence, Stephens said, "You have to put together what's called a Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP) that has to be approved by the EPA because EPA's providing funds." They expect to submit a draft QAPP by next week that may not be approved before almost summer's end.
The recent incidents at Davis Pipe, however, may result in an attempt to expedite Phase 2, Stephens hopes. "After the fire and realizing the fact that kids and whatnot are getting into the site, there's a lot of concern with regard to the drums being there."
Emergency responders expressed concern about the possibility of someone being "exposed to the contents of the drums or the hazards of the drums, so they want to at least find a place to secure the drums," Stephens said.
"Let's say Phase 2 says you have to do X, Y, Z to get this site cleaned up," then "the new owner could do X, Y, Z and he's not liable for anything that could come up in the future," said Ray. "Normally, you inherit the risk of what somebody did before, but this particular grant allows you to establish a new timeline going forward so the new owner doesn't have to inherit the past risk."
After Phase 2, Stephens said, "We could find that the problems are not that significant and maybe a developer will come in and take over." Or, if cleanup is required, the project would move on to Phase 3 after Sullivan County applies for remediation funds.
Another possibility, which Stephens says he believes is possibly the avenue of choice, would be to re-stage the drums to a secure location as part of Phase 2, since the drums will need to be re-staged in order to be tested. That would eliminate the risk of citizens inadvertently stumbling across the site.
No matter how they get it done, all parties agree that the idea is to remediate any potential hazards at the old Davis Pipe site so that it can be reused for the good of the community.
Although foreclosure is always a possibility, Ray says, "To me, the best scenario would be some industry coming in and saying "hey we really like this site and we want to buy the site and create 30, 40 jobs."
"If we were looking for 'what's the best scenario," Ray concluded, "that's probably it."