NAVASSA — The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends taking “no action” to clean up a portion of the former Kerr-McGee Chemical Corporation in Navassa.
The move would free up about 100 acres for redevelopment near an area of town where more than 400 new residential units were approved in the fall.
While growth in Brunswick County has exploded over the past decade, growth in Navassa has lagged, partially due to the difficulty in getting the Superfund site ready for redevelopment.
The Kerr-McGee plant was in operation from 1936 to 1974, under several different owners. The plant treated wood with creosote, a tar-like substance used for a variety of purposes, including as a pesticide and for treating wood (which is how it was used at the Navassa plant). Creosote is considered a probable human carcinogen.
If the EPA’s recommendation to leave the small portion of the site alone sticks, it would mark a major step toward spurring economic development in the riverfront area of town. However, the recommendation has been sharply criticized by an environmental law firm that says there’s more than enough settlement money already allocated to the site to properly clean it up.
At a public information meeting next week, local, state, and federal officials will be available to provide overall project updates on the entire 254-acre Navassa Superfund Site.
Operable Unit 1
Representing about one-fifth of the entire former creosote facility, a 21.6-acre portion named Operable Unit 1 (OU1) is one potential area that could be remediated. It would cost an estimated $3 million to excavate contaminated soil on the site.
A Human Health Risk Assessment produced by the EPA in April 2019 shows soil at the 101.6-acre former creosote facility is contaminated with at least two chemicals, Bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), Benzo[a]pyrene (BaP); both serve as indicators of creosote contamination, according to the assessment.
Because the 21.6-acre site is currently zoned industrial, the EPA concluded in October that OU1 “poses no current or potential threat to human health or the environment” given the anticipated future land uses, which include commercial, industrial, or recreational. Given these factors, the EPA is recommending a “No Action Remedy.”
Dawn Harris-Young, an EPA spokesperson, said the agency is still evaluating feedback submitted (the public comment period closed in November). A Record of Decision is forthcoming and will include summaries of responses to concerns raised, but is not necessarily binding, Harris-Young said.
“Sometimes things change,” she said. “Sometimes there are other land-use decisions made in an area and those will be addressed at that time.” Specific concerns may be addressed at the meeting planned Tuesday, Harris-Young said.
Although the Kerr-McGee Chemical Corporation ceased its Navassa operations in 1974, the site wasn’t dismantled until 1979 and 1980. Creosote still present at the site leached into the soil; this contamination reached the groundwater, which ultimately leads to public waterways.
A legal settlement in 2010 created the Multistate Environmental Response Team and set aside funds for contaminated sites across the nation. As of 2017, the Trust had approximately $90 million remaining in the fund specifically dedicated to the Kerr-McGee site.
In a Dec. 5 letter addressed to the EPA, the Southern Environmental Law Firm (SELC) writing on behalf of the non-profit, Navassa Community Economic and Environmental-Redevelopment, condemned the EPA’s solution.
“Full cleanup of OU1 is a bargain, and anything less defies the governing statutes, regulations, EPA guidance, sound public policy, and common sense,” the letter states.
OU1 essentially landlocks the Eastern Upland Area of the former creosote plant, an 82-acre portion that is relatively uncontaminated (view the map below for reference). The EPA’s No Action Remedy would free up all 101.6 acres for redevelopment in an area that would otherwise likely serve as prime real estate.
In its letter, the SELC states the Navassa community has not ruled out residential development of the site. If it was considered to include residential use, the federal cleanup standard increases significantly.
Town officials have long emphasized the importance of industrial zoning, hoping that an industrial business could provide good-paying jobs to the community’s residents.
The Navassa community has about three times more African American residents than the average North Carolina population, according to U.S. Census data. Residents also have a lower median income than Brunswick County residents on average.
The SELC urges the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to take action, stating the EPA’s No Action Remedy would have a “disproportionate, adverse impact on a predominantly African-American community” and violate the Civil Rights Act.
What: Public information meeting. Local, state and federal representatives will be in attendance
When: Tuesday, January 14, from 6 to 8 p.m.
Where: Navassa Community Center
Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee Still at firstname.lastname@example.org