Tuesday, June 04, 2013

EDITORIAL >> New era at Vertac

The Vertac Superfund site reached a milestone last week when a federal judge ended court supervision at the old chemical plant in Jacksonville after more than 30 years.

Hercules, Inc., the longtime operator of the herbicide plant, spent more than $120 million during the decades-long cleanup, but it must still monitor the 93-acre site for possible contamination. Monitoring will continue for at least five more years.

U.S. District Judge Price Marshall has ruled that East Bay Realty Services, a subsidiary of Hercules, has to treat the ground water and monitor the property until the site is no longer hazardous.

The company will also submit a follow-up written report to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The property cannot be used for residential purposes or a nursing home, daycare center, playground or church. The site’s groundwater and surface water can’t be used and other prohibitions apply.

The prognosis looks good: No contaminated runoff has been detected there since the incineration of chemical wastes was completed at a cost of some $150 million. The site along Marshall Road now includes the new police headquarters, police and fire department training, the recycling center and more.

Several more acres outside a fenced-off area are suitable for development, perhaps a recycled glass factory or light industry. City officials should make it a priority for further development of perhaps as much as a third of the land, which is now designated a brownfield.

Mayor Gary Fletcher, who was a Jacksonville alderman while the site was remediated, told us last week, “The site is clean, has been clean, for years. It’s a beautiful site. The wildlife, the vegetation is as healthy here as it is anywhere else.”

Jim Durham, the city’s director of administration, said, “Most people don’t realize that the chemicals were not made or stored over the entire site. The chemicals were incinerated and the remaining ash entombed in concrete and fenced off.”

Even as monitoring continues, future development along Marshall Road would serve as a buffer between the old plant and a revitalized community is overcoming the stigmas of the past and moving forward.