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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Navassa Superfund site one step closer to development

Multistate trust to donate 20 acres for cultural center, nature park

The Navassa Superfund site is in the process of being cleaned up for redevelopment. (Photo courtesy of Greenfield Environmental Trust Group)

NAVASSA — More than 200 acres of land sits vacant in Navassa. Town officials see it as a missed opportunity. While the remediation of the former Kerr-McGee Superfund site has been in the works for years, concrete plans for development are finally coming to fruition. 

“Folks have been anxious to see something happen,” Mayor Eulis Willis said. “I am definitely looking forward to it.”

Last year, a 20-acre portion of the site was officially cleared for unrestricted use — development of any kind — by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Multistate Trust, who owns and manages the land — and for five years has been collaborating with the community to clean up the property — now has its sights set on more progress: 16 additional acres. Bids are open for work to begin by the fall.

Cleaning up the area for development will accommodate for the growth of Navassa, which is 14 square miles and has a population of less than 2,000. According to the Navassa Community Economic and Environmental Redevelopment (NCEER) committee, “Had the Superfund site not been contaminated, it would likely be prime real estate due to its scenic river views.”

Formerly owned by the Kerr-McGee Chemical Corp., more than 200 acres, bordered by Sturgeon Creek, the Brunswick River and Quality Drive, have been under EPA investigation since 2010. The site was formerly used for creosote-based wood treatment until Kerr-McGee shut its doors in the late 1970s; however, residual chemicals remain in the soil, subsurface and groundwater of the property.  

Superfund sites are nationwide areas of hazardous waste the federal government is cleaning up. The 1980 Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), also informally known as “Superfund,” “gives the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the funds and authority to clean up contaminated sites.”

Of the roughly 246-acre former Kerr-McGee site, 154 acres on the east side of Navassa Road is now owned by the Multistate Trust per the 2009 bankruptcy settlement of Tronox, Kerr-McGee’s spinoff company. Roughly 32 acres is owned by the state and the remaining is wetlands. 

The settlement also resulted in $94.8 million, which must be used by the Multistate Trust specifically for environmental actions — investigations, studies, design and remediation, operations, maintenance and redevelopment planning.

The EPA added roughly 100 acres of the Kerr-McGee site to its National Priorities List (NPL) of federal Superfund sites in 2010. As of 2011, the Multistate Trust manages the property and facilitates the environmental actions and eventual redevelopment, sale or transfer of it under the oversight of the EPA and N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ).

The Multistate Trust has been working hand-in-hand with the town and has made it clear it wants to back a strategy that aligns with the community’s needs and desires. While those strategies have altered over the years, Navassa officials have requested the possibility for residential development be put on the table. Certain areas of the land are already suitable for commercial and industrial uses, as well as recreation, according to the EPA.

READ MORE: Contaminated Navassa superfund site to be redeveloped

The Multistate Trust will begin cleaning up operable unit two this year. (Courtesy of Greenfield Environmental Trust Group)

Operable Unit 2

The contaminated site has been divided into five sections, known as “operable units,” to phase the remediation strategy. Breaking up the land would expedite the process, according to EPA officials. 

In 2019, EPA proposed a cleanup plan based on preparing the land for industrial purposes, but the community expressed an interest in seeing residential options as well, which have stricter environmental conditions.

Based on soil and water sampling results, operable unit one was reshaped from its original 31 acres into a smaller 22-acre area.

“We found there were a lot of areas that met our criteria for no action, even based on residential exposure,” EPA project manager Erik Spalvins said. “All our samples were below the site specific threshold.”

That threshold is a calculated cancer and toxicity risk based on contamination. If there is a more than one in 10,000 chance of someone getting cancer over the course of a lifetime, it’s deemed unacceptable.

In 2021, the 20-acre operable unit one was officially deleted from the NPL, meaning it is no longer considered a health risk for humans or the environment. It also means it has no land use restrictions.

“The whole strategy is based on, ‘Let’s get parts of this site cleaned up and out of our program,’” Spalvins explained.

Working in numerical order, operable unit two is next on the list. A feasibility study is being conducted on the 16 acres that comprise the area. Following a risk assessment, the area was deemed unacceptable for residential development.

READ MORE: Soil sampling reduces immediately usable residential acreage on Navassa Superfund site

Only about 1.6 acres of the area need to be cleaned up for operable unit two to reach federal and state standards. To rectify the hazard risk, construction crews will excavate 1 to 2 feet into the ground to remove up to 2,900 cubic yards of contaminated soil and transport it offsite.

Contaminated soil can only be transported to CERCLA-designated waste disposal sites to ensure its being managed in an environmentally sound way, Spalvins explained.

Clean soil will then fill in the holes to restore the land grade and affected areas will be revegetated.

Following cleanup, non-restricted residential development would be an option.

Bids for contractor work opened in March and are due by April 12. The Multistate Trust will favor bids that hire local workers. A contractor will be selected by June and begin mobilizing equipment to the area by September. The goal is to have the 16 acres remediated and removed from the NPL by September 2023. 

Operable units three through five will continue to be monitored. EPA plans to gather additional information to quantify human and ecological risk on the remaining 70 acres and surrounding groundwater.

Operable unit three should be the next area that can reach EPA deletion. Operable unit four will be the most difficult, as it’s the main site where creosote-based wood treatment occurred at Kerr-McGee.

The Multistate Trust holds quarterly community planning meetings for updates on the Superfund process. (Photo courtesy of Greenfield Environmental Trust Group)

Reuse and redevelopment

The Multistate Trust has drafted four concepts for future land use, with input from residents and stakeholders over more than a dozen public meetings. The proposed options include light industrial lots, commercial lots, walking and biking trails, a cultural heritage center and a riverwalk with boat access.

“One of our philosophies of our cleanup program is we want to approach each cleanup in a way that meets community goals,” Spalvins said. “The community was clear: They want to see redevelopment, jobs, and the property returned to productive use.”

The superfund site engulfs the majority of the town’s waterfront property, so there is a major push to bring that prime location back to life.

The Multistate Trust encourages collaboration with the town to guide a process suited for its residents. The transfer or sale of any portion of the 246 acres must be approved by EPA and the Navassa Trustee Council.

The town must OK the zoning ordinance for the property before the Multistate Trust will transfer the deed. This retains the local government’s decision-making authority for the future of the land, which will impact its residents. 

“A key feature of the strategy is for the local government to maintain the same authority to approve zoning decisions that it would under normal piece of property being developed,” Spalvins said. “The joint goal for everyone involved is for the trust to sell the property for community-supported development that has broad community support.”

The town of Navassa has been brainstorming for the preservation of land honoring the Gullah GeeChee culture.

“One thing a lot of small towns lack is identity,” Mayor Willis said. “We’ve learned over the years our heritage, for the most part, has been the slaves who worked on the rice plantations back in the Antebellum days.”

One of those roughly six plantations in Navassa is where the superfund site now sits. The Moze Center will be located nearby.

“We have a couple benefits,” Willis said. “We save our heritage and develop something to provide not only recreation but economic development: It’s our brand, or face, for the town.”

To aid with this project, the Multistate Trust plans to donate 20 acres for the creation of a nature park, walking trails and the Moze Heritage Center. 

“The Multistate Trust plans to proceed with the Moze Center land donation before remediation on the Superfund Site is complete,” Claire Woods, Multistate Trust director of environmental justice, said. “It is expected that most of the land to be donated for the Moze Center will be located on the Eastern Upland Area, which is not a part of the Superfund Site and does not require environmental remediation” 

Depending on the final footprint, not yet determined, a portion of the donation may reside in operable unit four, which would need remediation before public use.

Once the land is donated, it will belong to the town but subject to restrictive conservation easement. In other words, the property will have to be preserved and not available for  future development.

While the Multistate Trust is donating the land, the town will have to come up with funding for the building. The Natural Resource Trustee Council is assisting with the conservation of natural resources in the superfund area and will help cover $250,000 for land preservation. The Moze Heritage Center is one of 10 projects for the Lower Cape Fear Watershed, surrounding Navassa, using roughly $23 million received from the 2010 settlement.

Once the land donation is finalized, the Natural Resource Trustee Council will perform a site assessment, followed by design and permitting. The goal is to begin construction by the spring/summer of 2023.

Navassa Town Council approved the original footprint for the land donation last year, but a portion of the area is wetlands. The layout is now being reevaluated, but the goal is to preserve the marshy area on the eastern portion of the site.

To assist with redevelopment concepts for the land, the Multistate Trust formed the Reuse Advisory Council (RAC), made up of Navassa residents, town officials and a representative from the Navassa Community Environmental and Economic Redevelopment Corporation. The six-person team includes Mayor Eulis Willis; they met for the first time Mar. 1. The group’s mission is to seek community input on the initial recommendation for redevelopment concepts.

When bids are submitted for development, the RAC will be the ones to evaluate and make recommendations to the community on how to proceed.

According to Woods, the RAC is seeking options that minimize the likelihood of gentrification, prioritize light industry to incentivize jobs and increase the tax base, and add density-restricted multi-family residential options.

An invitation to bid will open in late summer, early fall of this year. The group hopes to choose a plan by January 2023, with a closing date for the property transfer to be June 2024.

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