Bills could fund cleanup of abandoned plant

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 21, 2005

[1/15/05]State funding to help redevelop the abandoned Vicksburg Chemical plant off Rifle Range Road could become available through legislation being proposed this year.

Two bills, one filed in the House and one in the Senate, would create a Redevelopment Project Incentive Fund that could be used to clean a contaminated site such as the idle plant. The fund would be paid into through property and sale taxes generated from the project.

“This is something that will ultimately be able to provide jobs and help the local economy,” said Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, who filed the House bill.

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City officials who have been interested in acquiring part of the land to develop a golf course off Warrenton Road say that state funding could be the difference between a development moving forward or the land sitting unused for years longer.

“We could end up with contaminated land for the next 30 years or we could end up with lots of construction and new development,” said Mayor Laurence Leyens.

Harcros Chemicals Inc. of Kansas City, Kansas, in partnership with Arcadis, a Dutch multinational corporation with U.S. headquarters near Denver, has been in negotiations with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality to take over the site and reopen the chemical plant, but those talks have stalled over the cost of cleaning up the site.

Vicksburg Chemical shut down in 2002 after its parent company, Cedar Chemical, filed for bankruptcy. In the process of the bankruptcy, a judge in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York allowed the company to abandon the site to the ownership of the MDEQ.

The state since has been monitoring the land to make sure that contamination from the manufacture of herbicides, pesticides and fertilizer for the past 50 or more years does not migrate from the 40-acre part of the property actually used for chemical manufacture.

Sen. Mike Chaney, R-Vicksburg, who filed a companion bill on the Senate side, said the redevelopment fund will make it possible for the site to be cleaned up by a private developer.

“This will keep the state from having to dole out $8 million to clean up this site,” Chaney said. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”

Cleaning up the 40-acre contaminated site could open 540 acres for potential development. Proposals have included recreation areas, new homes and the reopening of the chemical plant that once employed 100 workers.

City and county officials have been working for the past year to sweeten the deal for redevelopment of the property. Last year, a federal bankruptcy judge has ordered a tax lien in Warren County void at the request of supervisors who said they would not seek nearly $800,000 in back taxes if the property was redeveloped.

At various times, the plant made fertilizer, rocket fuel components and other chemicals. Much of the byproduct was disposed of on the site, as was then required by state and federal regulations.