TARPON SPRINGS — The vast green field sits behind a fence topped by three rows of barbed wire. It's totally empty except for one lone trailer way out in the middle.
The 130-acre site is one of the three largest undeveloped tracts of land left in Pinellas County. No one has used this land in a long time, and for good reason. The former home of the Stauffer Chemical plant is a federal Superfund site that once contained radioactive slag and toxic waste.
Now, after a $21 million cleanup and containment effort, it's open for business. The state is preparing to spend millions of dollars on improvements to the property. Local legislators are trying to attract an industrial manufacturer to relocate there, potentially bringing scores of good-paying jobs to Tarpon Springs.
The company being wooed does precision welding work for components of offshore oil platforms, officials say. They wouldn't identify it by name.
Tarpon residents are all for new jobs, although some remain uneasy about disturbing the notorious site.
"Jobs are always a huge incentive," said Kate Roddey, manager of the nearby Hickory Point Mobile Home & RV Park. "But how good is that cleanup process, really?"
The cleanup was finished in 2011 at the site on the Anclote River, near the Gulf of Mexico and the border between Pinellas and Pasco counties. These days, the only thing that must be done there is periodic groundwater monitoring, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Contaminated soil was mounded up and capped. It's buried beneath a layer of trucked-in dirt and green grass.
Because polluted soil remains on the site, homes can't be built there. But officials say the parcel is ready for some other use.
The new state budget that the Florida Legislature just passed contains a $2.5 million earmark for "dredging, wharf stabilization and road improvements" at the Stauffer site.
The earmark is the work of Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. The state won't spend that money to prepare the site unless a company agrees to move there, he said.
Although a specific company is in talks to relocate to the property, Latvala said, "There's no deal yet. The incentive is not tied to one company."
Crews would dredge nearby Meyers Cove along the Anclote and would upgrade the seawall at the site to make it suitable for launching boats.
"It's an existing company that's growing," Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, said of the Stauffer property's potential tenant. "They make parts of oil platforms. Where they are now, they have no access to the water."
Currently, the company trucks its products to the Port of Tampa and ships them from there, he said.
"This site would give them the ability to load their products and ship them all over the world by barge," Hooper said. "It's about the only place in this county they can find that's zoned correctly, where you'd have direct water access to the Gulf."
The move could bring 100 good-paying jobs to North Pinellas, he added.
Rep. Carl Zimmermann, D-Palm Harbor, says he was told the move could eventually bring 80 to 200 new jobs to the area.
The Stauffer property is owned by AstraZeneca, an international pharmaceutical manufacturer that owns what was once Stauffer Chemical and all its assets.
"We've been responsible for the cleanup," said AstraZeneca spokeswoman Michele Meixell. "Our goal is to return it to beneficial use."
The part of the state earmark dedicated to "road improvements" would likely be used to connect the site to Anclote Boulevard to the north, said Pinellas County economic development director Mike Meidel.
Meidel notes that there are only three large undeveloped tracts available in Pinellas County: the Stauffer site, the closed Airco golf course next to St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, and the closed Toytown landfill just east of Interstate 275.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBrassfield.