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City approves Brownfields hazardous properties plan

Story by: Jefferson Weaver, The News Reporter

After an extended discussion Tuesday, Whiteville City Council members voted to work with the Terracon company on a project to locate, cleanup and potentially improve environmentally hazardous properties in the city.

The board delayed action on the plan at the last meeting, and only approved the measure Tuesday after instructing City Manager Darren Currie and City Attorney Carlton Williamson to ensure the city will have no expensive, unpleasant surprises down the road.

“All this does is help the property owner make his building or land more valuable,” Currie said.

Terracon is a national company specializing in Brownfields grants through the Environmental Protection Agency. The Brownfields program was set up through the EPA to clean up former industrial and commercial sites where toxic chemicals were used or stored, and have leached into the soil.

Currie explained that Terracon, working through the county’s economic development office, hopes to identify potential cleanup sites in Whiteville, Chadbourn and Tabor City, then apply for federal funding to clean up the sites. Terracon provides the survey and grant application services for free in exchange for managing the project.

Terracon specialists will work with city employees to find potential contaminated sites, Currie said, then make contact with the owners about a possible cleanup.

Councilman Robert Leder reemphasized his concerns that the survey would require too much manpower from the city, that there would be hidden costs, and that landowners wouldn’t be interested in taking advantage of the program if a grant was approved.

“We had a study several years ago, and none of the owners were interested,” he said. “What is it going to cost us if no one wants to participate?’

“If a site is chosen, it doesn’t cost us anything,” Currie said. “We don’t have a significant investment in man hours, and Terracon handles all the management of the project. The whole purpose is to mitigate a hazard and get something into a property that otherwise would be cost-prohibitive to use.”

Owners are not required to participate, Currie said.

“It would likely be to their advantage to do so,” he said. “If you have a property that has asbestos issues, you have to disclose it or clean it up before you can sell it. That is simply too expensive in most cases, so the building just stands there doing nothing. This way, the owner has a property that can be sold or put back into use, with nowhere near the cost.”

Councilman Harold Troy asked if cleaned up properties had to be sold, and if residential property qualified. Currie said only commercial property falls under Brownfields funding.

“There is no requirement that the owner sell a renovated property,” Currie said. “The whole purpose is to get a business inside a building and get it open again. If an owner wanted to do so, they would be more than welcome to. No one is going to make them sell it.”

Mayor Terry Mann noted that Gary Lanier of the county economic development office suggested Whiteville for the program because the city has a number of potential candidates in areas that are more likely to be attractive to developers than other communities.

“Gary thought Whiteville might be an easier place to start,” he said. “Then if it works, they can move out into Chadbourn and Tabor City.”

Councilwoman Vickie Pait made the motion to accept Terracon’s offer, with a second by Jimmy Clarida. Leder voted for the plan, on the condition that Currie and Williamson carefully review the contract for any liability on the part of the city.

“I just want us to be extremely careful,” he said.

Stuart Rogers