Avtex deal changes uses for part of site

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL — Warren County leaders took another step Tuesday toward helping to develop the former Avtex Fibers Superfund site.

The Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 to adopt a resolution to execute a new agreement with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and other parties that changes the list of allowable uses on the Skyline Soccerplex property, part of the Avtex property and one of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund sites.

The county attorney’s office and the Economic Development Committee worked with the EPA to draft a new agreement that would allow for recreational uses on other parts of the land that includes the Soccerplex and the Skatepark.

County Attorney Blair Mitchell described the work on the agreement as a “labor of love” for him and EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald.

The new document replaces a more-restrictive list of covenants approved in 1999 for the uses of the 32-acre site. The new agreement allows the county to use the property for recreational amenities and parking lots as well as activities involving children. The county could not allow groundwater use, accumulation, residential units or hunting and trapping on the site — restrictions in place for the entire Avtex property.

The county bought 28 acres of the Soccerplex land in 2006-2007 and the other 3½ acres about three years ago.The new agreement takes into account that the county-owned part of the Avtex site was never polluted. As Mitchell explained later Tuesday, the original deal did designate the 32 acres as a recreational site. The county obtained an agreement with FMC Corporation, the EDA, the EPA, the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District, Valley Conservation Council and Allied Chemical that soccer fields and the skate park met the terms.

Mitchell told the board that shortly after he joined the county in 2007 local officials met with stakeholders and went over the existing restrictions. The list covered the entire Avtex site and the former Allied Chemical property now owned by Honeywell.

“They didn’t allow a whole lot but some of the things they did allow were rather strange, very questionable,” Mitchell said.

The attorney said he asked EPA officials why the original list of restrictions also allowed for the manufacturing of electric-power transformers on the Avtex site. Mitchell added that at one time Front Royal, through its Department of Electrical Services, worked with Carolina Transformer, based in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Since 1999, the company property has been listed as an EPA Superfund site that produced the pollutant known as polychlorinated biphenyl.

“The wording of the restrictive covenants from 1999 would have allowed that on the Avtex site,” Mitchell said. “Stupid. Would have allowed those kinds of things to be operating on a 24-hour a day, three-shift phases, seven days a week.”

Some restrictions appear to conflict. The agreement allowed a baby-food company to manufacture its products on the site, but did not allow a restaurant to operate on the property, Mitchell said.

“A number of other things we asked: Why would it allow this and not allow that and [the EPA] didn’t have good answers,” Mitchell said.

The local parties began working with the EPA and the Department of Justice to change the restrictions and allow a better reuse of the Avtex site to help the economy, the attorney said.

The five documents set to replace the 1999 agreement also include a deal that allowed Front Royal to buy land for a new police headquarters; to let the EDA further develop 150 acres for industrial and commercial uses; and preserve another large amount of property as a conservation area.

A term of the new agreement requires that the county inform the DEQ, the EPA and other parties every five years, beginning in 2017, that the local government continues to observe the restrictions. The DEQ also requires a one-time payment of $1,000.

The new agreement removes the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District and the Valley Conservation Council, which began to demand money for their work as parties in the effort, and replaces them with the DEQ and the Clean Water Project in Warrenton.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com