Front Royal celebrates return of Avtex property

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce
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An aerial view shows the Avtex property, which
became a Superfund site in 1989.
Photo courtesy Front Royal EDA

September marks a new beginning for the site that once housed Front Royal’s largest employer, Avtex Fibers.

The Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority will hold an event celebrating the return of the Avtex Superfund site to the community. “It will be exciting to see this site have jobs and be a viable part of the community again,” says Jennifer McDonald, the authority’s executive director.

A Superfund site is a property that the Environmental Protection Agency has determined is contaminated and needs remediation. “At one time we were the largest Superfund site in Virginia,” McDonald says.

Opened in 1940, the Avtex plant produced rayon, polyester and polypropylene until it abruptly shut down in 1989. “It was devastating,” McDonald says. “There was no time to properly shut down the acid [in the plant]. Everything was left in the pipes, and it sat there for 10 years until 1999 when the Economic Development Authority took ownership.”

The EPA will issue a “letter of no further interest” during September, which means the 162-acre industrial plant site is ready for development. The property also has 240 acres in conservancy and 34 acres containing a recreational area with soccer fields and a state-of-the-art skate park. “We sold 5.24 acres to the Town of Front Royal to construct a new police headquarters,” McDonald says.

The Army Corps of Engineers participated in the demolition of the Avtex plant. The site cleanup was conducted by Philadelphia-based FMC Corp. “They were the only surviving company that once had owned the property,” McDonald says. “The other companies had filed bankruptcy. FMC has done a wonderful job with the cleanup. It is a great community partner.”

Federal funding ac­­counted for $26 million of cost in demolishing the building, but McDonald estimates that FMC has spent more than $100 million on the total project.
She would like to see the site developed by someone familiar with Superfund sites and their restrictions. “Now that the EPA can see that it is clean, they are revising the restrictions to allow more things to be onsite,” she says, adding that development of any project involving the routine presence of children is prohibited. “There can’t be any [daycare centers] or schools or residential development. And, no one can use the groundwater.”

McDonald hopes developers will create a mixed-use project with industrial, commercial and office buildings. The interested developers are now “sitting on the sidelines, waiting,” she says.

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