CHESTER - With its charred walls, shattered windows and collapsed roof, the old Taylor Smith & Taylor property in Chester hardly looks like a hot commodity.
But the near-10 acre property overlooks the Ohio River. It's flat, has easy access to interstate highways, rail and barge traffic, and it already has water, sewage and electric service on site.
It is the perfect parcel or at least it will be when contaminants left on site decades ago are removed, according to its new owner, the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle.
"I would like to say it was part of a grand strategy, but it was really just an instance where the stars were aligned," BDC Executive Director Pat Ford said. "The opportunity presented itself at a time that was right for us."
In June the BDC followed the lead of other development groups up and down the Ohio Valley and ponied up a pretty big chunk of its own funds $125,000 to acquire the TS&T property, a thorn in the side of nearby property owners since the plant was idled in 1981.
So far they've secured $17,000 in grant money to do site assessments - Phase I, a historical accounting of an industrial property's past life to determine the likelihood of contaminants being on site, and Phase II, figuring out what hazardous wastes are on the site, where they're located and in what quantities.
Once they know what's there, the BDC can choose an appropriate cleanup option and finalize a site remediation plan spelling out the contaminants found on the property, how they'll be cleaned up and what will be done to mitigate risk. The BDC already is applying for a $600,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to cover the cost of the cleanup.
Meanwhile, a citizens group, the Rock Springs Riverfront Redevelopment Committee, is partnering with the BDC to figure out how best to use the site once the hazards are eliminated.
"Often, the biggest challenge we find is a lack of a vision for the future of a site," said Luke Elser, projects director for the Northern West Virginia Brownfield Assistance Center. "The reality is, every town has a brownfield they want cleaned up and there isn't enough money around to knock down every old industrial building. Communities need to look at a brownfield as an opportunity/asset and think about what the site will become and how that will play into the future of their town."
Created by the Legislature in 2005, West Virginia's two Brownfield Assistance Centers are designed to help communities plan and implement brownfields redevelopment projects. Elser said they're currently working on more than 60 brownfield sites across the state.
"It's not an image a town wants to represent," Elser said. "The TS&T site is actually a great case study of the kinds of frustration brownfields sites can cause in communities, the kinds of issues brownfields projects cause in communities, but it's also an example of the excitement and interest that's generated in a community because of it. People are very, very excited about the possibility of having a brownfield site gone and having something new and positive there for the town."
Ford said the site is exactly what many of the companies looking for investment properties want minus the legacy contamination, of course.
"This is our first big-scale acquisition," he said. "Wheeling's been doing this for a while through RED, the Regional Economic Development partnership. It's also a multi-county partnership, but it's bigger than ours. We're a rather small market up here. We do Brooke and Hancock counties, but to our board's credit we were able to restructure, write new bylaws and develop a comprehensive strategic plan. We're seeing the fruits of those tough decisions we made three or four years ago today."