CHESTER – Cleanup of the riverbank by the old Taylor, Smith & Taylor pottery site in Chester could begin later this year now that the federal government has awarded a $200,000 grant for that purpose. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's award means that the Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle, the TS&T property owner, will be able to move forward with the final cleanup of northern Hancock County's most notorious brownfield. The BDC bought the long-vacant property in 2011 and cleaned up the upper portion in 2012. But marketing the land for economic development has proved more difficult because prospects balk when they hear about the remaining contamination along the riverbank, BDC Executive Director Patrick Ford said. “We're still being sought after by people in the energy business … who are looking for a site to either expand or locate in the Ohio River valley,” Ford said. “Inventory is tight, so we're trying to get this site clean as soon as possible so we can capture this window of opportunity.” The riverfront is believed to be contaminated with lead from old pottery shards from when TS&T operated there. In order for the cleanup to take place, the BDC must first complete a Phase II environmental assessment of the area. That assessment, funded by a $70,000 grant from the EPA, began last week under the auspices of Civil & Environmental Consultants Inc., of Pittsburgh. The study will rely on soil samples to give a more complete picture of the extent of the contamination, Ford said. The findings of the assessment will then be used to guide and outline the scope of the cleanup process, he said. The Phase II assessment could take as long as three months because it involves taking soil samples from above and below the waterline, he said. “We own the land that goes out into the river, so we have to sample what's in the water there,” he said. “They drill a hole in the ground and pull out a core of soil. They'll go until they don't find any more unacceptable levels of lead.” In addition to lead from ceramic waste material, the riverbank may also be contaminated by fuel oil that was kept in above-ground storage tanks by TS&T in the late 1960s and early '70s. After Anchor Hocking closed TS&T in 1981, a barge cleaning business operated on the site from the mid-1980s to the '90s. Liquid petroleum products that had been removed from barges were stored in the above-ground tanks and in 55-gallon drums, most of which have been removed from the site, according to the BDC's original grant application. But the biggest concern remains the lead. Preliminary soil and sediment samples collected along the riverbank have exhibited lead concentrations as high as 199,000 milligrams per kilogram, according to the application. Once the Phase II results are in, the cleanup can begin – later this year or by the early spring of 2016. The BDC must match the $200,000 from the EPA with $40,000 of its own money, Ford said. The BDC applied for the grant in December. Ford said the cleanup is critical for the development of the 8.54-acre site because prospects want clean land on which to build. One prospective developer is interested in locating its headquarters and a light manufacturing facility in Chester, while a second one recently expressed interest. “As long as it's contaminated, we will not be able to get financing for the prospects that are interested in the property. They all need financing,” Ford said. “The people in the energy business … want title to it, but they don't want title to it if there's an environmental liability associated with it.” Ford said the BDC has an “aggressive” schedule to follow because it must abide by the federal procurement guidelines that are stipulated in the grant. So work on identifying contractors could begin soon. “It's going to be a pretty tricky cleanup,” he said, “because they have to remove the lead shards from the soil and avoid doing anything that's going to precipitate erosion.” For its work on the TS&T site and other brownfields in Hancock and Brooke counties, the BDC recently received an Environmental Award of Excellence (Land Revitalization) from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.
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