The City of Lenoir started cleaning up an old industrial site located at the corner of Virginia Street and College Avenue near downtown. The cleanup is the first step in putting the property back into productive use.
The City contracted with RCI Demolition (RCI) to start removing possible Asbestos Containing Materials (ACM) from the Virginia Street site. RCI is working to separate old brick and concrete from the debris piles. Once the materials are separated, RCI will haul off all the old ACM debris and leave the brick and concrete on site.
Public Utilities Director Radford Thomas is leading the cleanup project. Thomas said staff doesn't think there is a lot of ACM on the site, but debris is spread around the property.
"The cleanup is for the old debris piles on the property that might contain ACM, such as old flooring and roofing materials," Thomas said. "Once RCI is finished, we'll have a clean site to work with."
The Virginia Street property, located at 1429 College Ave. SW, contains the remnants of an old furniture plant. In 2009, a private company demolished buildings on the property for scrap. The company then abandoned the site, went bankrupt, and left debris everywhere. Due to environmental concerns over the debris left on the property, no private companies were interested in buying and redeveloping the site. In 2014, the City foreclosed on the property for taxes owed.
"The goal of the City and Council has always been to get the site cleaned up, get a Brownfields agreement on the property, and then get the property back on the market," City Manager Scott Hildebran said. "We would like to see investment made into the site that adds value for the City and the community. It's a centralized location with good access in an area experiencing a lot of redevelopment and revitalization. Developers are building new apartments in the Blue Bell building. The property is right beside the City's Community Garden, and the City is currently completing a portion of the rail/trail greenway adjacent to the parcel."
To move toward that goal and to help redevelop other sites in Lenoir, Thomas worked to develop a Brownfields program for the City several years ago. The primary purpose of a Brownfields program is to review industrial sites and help owners secure an agreement that holds them harmless for any future environmental liabilities from the site. City staff, stakeholders, Mid-Atlantic Associates and the City's Brownfields Advisory Committee worked for six years to develop the program and apply for grant funding from the Environment Protection Agency (EPA). The Brownfields Advisory Committee members are Thomas, Pete Kidder, Alan Merck, John Moore, Caldwell County Economic Development Commission Director Deborah Murray, Merlin Perry, Rick Pierce, Councilman David Stevens, City Planning Director Jenny Wheelock, and Councilman Ben Willis. Alvin Daughtridge and Jennifer Grayson previously served on the committee.
The City received EPA grant funding for the City's Brownfields program in 2018. The City also received a $300,000 Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) grant in 2019 to help clean up the Virginia Street property.
"Private businesses are usually hesitant to invest in old industrial sites without a Brownfields agreement," Thomas said. "New owners don't want to be held liable for something done by the old owners or businesses. With a Brownfields Agreement, the owner is held harmless and is generally much more willing to invest and redevelop an old property."
Once the Virginia Street site is "clean," the City can move forward with environmental reviews of the property and apply for a Brownfields agreement. The City is funding the cleanup with the $300,000 ARC grant and $250,000 from the City itself. Once the cleanup is finished, the City will use some of the Brownfields program money to perform more environmental assessments on the property.
"We’re very pleased to get this project underway and get this site cleaned up," Thomas said. "The City is doing everything it can to get the property ready for a new industry or business that can bring jobs and opportunities to the community."
Wheelock, who worked to secure the ARC grant, said the property has huge potential for a variety of uses, because it's next to the community gardens and the Over Mountain Victory Trail Rails-to-Trails project.
"By getting the debris removed and the Brownfields agreement in place, we can market the property for higher and better uses, and hopefully attract a quality development that fits into the redevelopment goals for the area," Wheelock said. "The Fairfield south vision calls for a “funky” mix of industrial and residential uses, taking advantage of historic mills, community amenities, and proximity to downtown. At the same time, current industrial uses are still thriving, so this site could go in either direction creating job opportunities and infill development."
Workers on the Virginia Street property wear hazmat suits to protect them from possible asbestos containing materials (ACM) in the debris piles.
Last Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, RCI was just getting started with separating the debris piles.
Today, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, RCI has made some progress separating the debris and is loading the ACM debris for disposal in the county landfill.