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Ex-councilman angry over lack of progress

By Ben Orcutt - borcutt@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- Former Town Councilman Fred P. Foster Jr. says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is dragging its feet on cleaning up the Avtex SuperFund site.

The former rayon manufacturing plant closed in 1989 due to environmental pollution. In 2001, Foster was honored by the Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce for his efforts in forging redevelopment of the 440-acre site, which is bordered in part by the South Fork of the Shenandoah River and Kendrick Lane.

When completed, plans for the site include a 160-acre business park, a 240-acre conservancy park, a 30-acre soccer complex and a 10-acre retail-commercial development in the old Avtex parking lot.

Foster, 73, said during a Tuesday interview at the jewelry store he co-owns in Front Royal with son Phil Foster, that he is tired of the EPA telling him to wait another year.

"This year, it's the 20th year," Foster said.

Foster said he met with Larry C. Johnson, a community involvement coordinator with the EPA's Hazardous Site Cleanup Division, a few weeks ago and asked when the remainder of the land for the business park would be ready for development.

"He said, 'This time next year,'" Foster said.

Foster said he told Johnson that he and others are tired of hearing that. A glaring example in Foster's mind is that he has noticed that several piles of toxic waste have not been removed.

"It was supposed to be removed from the site last year and then this year and then every other week I call 'em and I tell 'em it hasn't been removed yet," Foster said. "The problem that I'm finding is that EPA doesn't really know what they're doing."

One of the reasons that he is so passionate about returning a sizable portion of the site to the town and county's tax rolls is that his father, Fred P. Foster Sr., worked at Avtex for 38 years, Foster said.

"It's time to create another fire," Foster asserted. "It's time to create a stink so that we get these people to wake up."

Foster is more concerned about the land for the business park being released for use because of its value and less concerned about the cleanup for the conservancy park, which he thinks will never become a reality.

"No," Foster said. "You're not gonna see that. You want your kids or grandchildren to walk on that toxic mess? No. Put the fence up and keep it that way."

Johnson takes issue with Foster, noting that if all goes well, the land for the conservancy park should be ready for use by 2014 or 2015.

"The progress of the site is quite frankly a lot more than most of the people who I've had a chance to talk to had anticipated and we are actually making very good progress toward being able to return a goodly portion of that site to beneficial reuse, with one portion of the site being able to be returned by next year," Johnson said.

Johnson said the EPA is focusing its efforts on making the land for the business park available first.

"That is progressing," he said. "As far as I can determine from speaking with the contractors from FMC [the responsible party] and working with the project manager here, we're definitely on pace ... to turn the property over in 2010. I can't speak to Mr. Foster's impatience on the issue because, quite frankly, all the indications and all the engineers and the experts who do this thing on a daily basis tell me that this is going to happen."

Patricia S. "Patty" Wines, chairwoman of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority, the entity shepherding the Avtex redevelopment, known as the Royal Phoenix, agrees that cleanup efforts are going well.

"It's been going well," she said. "It just takes time, longer than I ever envisioned."

However, Foster is tired of waiting.

"Twenty years is long enough to clean up," he said. "If this country rolls their sleeves up and can fight two wars ... we can certainly clean up a toxic waste dump in 20 years. It's time that we get started again and get it done. Twenty years is long enough."

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