FORT VALLEY -- After 22 years and $32 million spent cleaning up contamination from a pesticide manufacturer, the old Woolfolk Chemical Works site is getting a new life.
City Council voted last week to rename it Fort Valley Festival Park. It will be used as a spot for city outdoor events.
We need to make lemonade out of lemons, and we need to get on with it, Mayor John Stumbo told residents to a round of applause.
The first use of the formerly polluted site in more than two decades will be this weekends ComSouth Hambone Jam, an annual barbecue competition.
Once a pesticide manufacturing plant called Woolfolk Chemical Works, the location changed names and ownership over the years.
In 1990, the old Woolfolk site was placed on the National Priorities List of hazardous sites around the country. The cleanup of such sites is paid for through the federal Superfund.
Testing revealed arsenic and other contaminants at and around the 31-acre site, located at Preston and Pine streets.
At the time, Canadyne-Georgia Corp. used the site for the warehousing of pesticides and agreed to help with cleanup.
The cleanup was a slow and costly process. Stumbo said residents proximity to the pollution -- chemicals also were found in the surrounding neighborhood -- probably helped keep funding on track even under budget constraints that have impacted other sites funding.
Superfund sites are traditionally not inside cities, or ... theyre on the edge of town, Stumbo said. In our case, its right downtown.
Twenty nearby attics have been sanitized, all of the old structures demolished, and a majority of the site itself dug out and cemented over.
What began as an incredibly challenging situation has become a source of pride and accomplishments for the Fort Valley community, a 2009 recognition from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stated.
There are three other Superfund sites in the midstate: at Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, the Powersville Landfill site in Peach County and Armstrong World Industries in Macon. The state list includes 21, according to the EPA website. Nationally, there are 1,280 sites.
Stumbo said the EPA is using Fort Valleys cleanup as an example for efforts at other sites. In 2009, the city was awarded with the EPA Region 4 Excellence in Site Reuse award.
In 2010, Stumbo told U.S. Congress the successful Woolfolk cleanup was credited to teamwork between residents and local, state and federal officials.
EPA officials involved with the project couldnt be reached for comment.
Healing from history
In 2011, the EPA confirmed the old Woolfolk site was clean enough for reuse, creating a new challenge for council: redevelopment.
There are a list of federal restrictions on development at the site now, including the inability to dig under the cement. Its proven difficult to sell to private investors, Stumbo said.
After Canadyne officially went bankrupt last year, the city acquired the property title. Instead of trying to convince a private entity to redevelop a site with strict limitations, Stumbo and council members decided to use it for the citys yearly events.
I wish I could return it all to the tax rolls, but the reality is private developers arent interested, the mayor said.
Stumbo said organizers of the Hambone Jam and the Peach Festival, held in June, already have agreed to the new location. He hopes to add other events, such as the annual city carnival.
The new arrangement will eliminate the need to close downtown streets for events.
It really hurts our Main Street, Stumbo said. These people (Hambone Jam cookers) dont come here to shop, they come here to cook.
The park also better serves the participants, particularly for the Hambone Jam, Stumbo said. Downtown streets didnt have enough room, electricity or water for their trailers.
We kept blowing breakers, Stumbo said. We had to lie waterlines temporarily on top of ground.
The city has added 45 50-amp electricity boxes and water hookups at the park. Additional lighting has been installed.
This years Hambone Jam will be the first time the winner automatically qualifies for the barbecue division of the World Food Championships in Las Vegas, held Nov. 1 through Nov. 4.
After the cookoff, Stumbo said City Council will vote whether to build a playground for neighborhood children.
Ive long suggested our kids in that area of town dont have a school yard they can play in, Stumbo said.
Stumbo said he wants to complete a site plan for the whole park before the end of the year. His vision is to include a bandstand and basketball goals over time. It will become a community gathering spot, he said.
Still, Stumbo said hes not blind to the polluted reputation stuck in residents heads. Council renamed the site to get rid of the Woolfolk name.
All he can promise, Stumbo said, is to remind residents the federal government wouldnt allow the reuse if it werent safe. Also, regular testing of the groundwater continues.
If you go out your front door, its more likely there is more arsenic in that soil than at this site, Stumbo said. That doesnt mean I dont understand (residents concerns). The only thing I can do is keep saying it, keep saying it, keep saying it.
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.