Community, state leaders celebrate Avtex site’s return

By Katie Demeria

FRONT ROYAL — Martha Craig, 86, and Audrey Dorr, 87, were Avtex Fibers employees in 1989 when the plant shut down. And both returned Saturday to celebrate the 440-acre site’s return to the community.

Craig, Dorr and many others locals joined officials from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, FMC Corporation, the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority and more at the celebration Saturday.

Congressman Bob Goodlatte was among the officials in attendance.

“The air is fresh and the rebirth of this part of this very special community has begun,” Goodlatte said during the commemoration ceremony.

The ceremony took place in the morning at the site’s groundwater leachate plant and was followed by tours of the site and, later, a festival near the EDA’s headquarters that was open to the public.

Other town and county officials joined Goodlatte, as well as individuals who played integral parts in rehabilitating the former Avtex site, which closed in 1989 due to pollution concerns. It is one of the largest EPA Superfund sites in Virginia and took 25 years to rehabilitate.

Dan Murray, chairman of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, Front Royal Mayor Tim Darr, EDA Chairperson Patty Wines, FMC Corporation Vice President Barry Crawford, Jeff Steers, director of the DEQ’s Division of Land Protection and Revitalization, and EPA Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus also addressed the guests.

Darr touched on how important Avtex Fibers was to the area before it shut down. He called it the “lifeblood of the community.”

“This piece of property we’re standing on now afforded hundreds of families the ability to buy cars, purchase homes, provided the resources to educate their children, and supported this town and its citizens for almost 50 years, and now the opportunity has finally come for that to happen again,” he said.

Craig had similar feelings about the plant. She worked there from 1945, only seven years after it opened, until 1989, the year it shut its doors. She is still a resident of Front Royal.

“We need more industries in the town,” she said. “We need to do something to make jobs.”

All three of Craig’s sons, she said, commute out of Front Royal on a daily basis. She said she hopes new businesses will keep them, and others, in the area.

Dorr worked at the plant for 26 years and is still a resident of Warren County. She said she was pleased with the ceremony and happy to see the land returned.

Crawford also spoke of the site’s historical significance. At one point, he said, it was the top producer of rayon in the country, which was used to make a great deal of equipment during World War II.

Pollutants getting into the groundwater and the Shenandoah River forced the EPA to step in, but Steers pointed out that being a Superfund site is not necessarily a bad thing — it allowed state, federal and local leaders to come together to clean the area and make it, again, ready for development.

“Today is the first day of deciding what comes next,” Darr said. “The point is, we have the opportunity to make this piece of property as great as it was when it was a viable plant that supported this community.”

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com