Though it is easy and often convenient to lament the onerous and time-consuming nature of environmental laws, a good example of how far we’ve come and why those rules and regulations are so important is the former Reynolds Metals Co. site in Longview.
Stories by Daily News reporter Amy M.E. Fischer on Sunday showed how lax regulations and oversight of the past created a massive problem in the present that has delayed economic development at the key riverfront site.
Though the aluminum plant hasn’t operated since 2001, cleanup of the mess it left behind is still at least three years away from being complete, according to Chinook Ventures, Inc., which bought property’s buildings and facilities in 2004.
Chinook Ventures expects the above-ground portion of the cleanup to be finished by the end of December, but there will remain a huge below-ground problem to address. A problem that under today’s standards would never have been created.
Even though Alcoa — which bought the plant from Reynolds in 2001 — still owns the land, Chinook Ventures will voluntarily fund the below-ground cleanup so the company can maximize the vacant land’s potential for future industrial use, according to the company. Chinook also has applied for permits to build new ship docks on the Columbia River, which would further increase the site’s possibilities.
Sound business sense dictates that this high-value piece of industrial property is worth the expense of cleaning it up. Other sites throughout the country contaminated by past industrial practices will not be so lucky. The high cost of environmental cleanup has prompted many companies to mothball or abandon their properties, which leaves the land sitting idle and useless or shifts the cleanup expense to the local or state government.
Fortunately for Longview, Chinook’s owners see that the $65 million they’re investing on site cleanup will pay off eventually with big rewards. Chinook already has several businesses renting building or storage space and is poised to sign contracts that will bring an ethanol factory, biofuels production facility and power plant to the 416-acre property. Those enterprises will create jobs and a higher tax base for Longview.
Regardless of the nature of the industries that eventually set up shop at the site, we can be confident they will not be allowed to create lasting environmental problems for future generations to clean up.
Increasingly strict environmental laws — the same ones some people love to credit with hampering economic development — will ensure a quicker turn-around when industrial change happens. This is a key point that often is lost when these regulations are debated.
As a result of Reynolds Metals’ past waste disposal practices, several places on the former Reynolds site are contaminated with hazardous material, and groundwater beneath portions of the site has elevated levels of sulfate, FLUORIDE and cyanide that exceed state pollution standards, the state Department of Ecology says. DOE is directing the site cleanup, which must be done to industrial-level standards rather than commercial or residential standards, which are higher.
When Chinook finishes decontaminating the site, the entire property will be available for industrial use. And the state’s tough environmental regulations will ensure that the mistakes of the past that led to delays in redeveloping Reynolds’ former property won’t be repeated if the day comes when the site is put up for sale again.
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Nov 22, 2008: Reynolds site contamination timeline