TARPON SPRINGS — Faye Russelo remembers the smell that used to permeate the air around the Stauffer Chemical plant.
She and her husband, Gene, owned Russelo's Sun Marina on the Anclote River close to the phosphate ore processing plant. She remembers her husband visiting the plant to complain about the "black stuff" that would cover the boats he had painted the night before.
"They would pay him to redo the job," Russelo, 67, said from her home on Anclote Road. "It was really bad."
For decades, the chemical plant belched smoke, and fires regularly broke out because there was so much phosphorus dust on the site that the soil would spontaneously ignite. Slag from the inside of the furnace where the ore was processed was piled up on the 130-acre property. And barrels of toxins were dumped into ponds.
The plant closed in 1981, but by then the property had been so contaminated with radioactive elements and heavy metals that it was declared a federal Superfund site in 1994. For years after that, local residents battled Stauffer and federal officials over how to clean up the site.
But now officials say the property is ready for a new use.
Fresh green grass covers the acreage, and all visible traces of the old plant have been erased. But the topography has changed. Under the grass, the contaminated soil was mounded up and capped.
"I just pray that they got it all," Russelo said of the contaminated soil.
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Randy Bryant, remedial project manager for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, says the property is fine now.
"The only thing that needs to be done is the periodic groundwater monitoring," he said from his Atlanta office.
The plant was originally built and operated by Victor Chemical Co. and began production in 1947. In 1960, Stauffer Chemical bought the plant, which continued to produce elemental phosphorous until 1981.
The plant left 30 toxic substances in the water and soil, including arsenic, lead and radium-226. Workers at the plant were exposed to asbestos, lead, sulfur dioxide and other contaminants that could have increased their risk of cancer.
To corral the pollution on the southern portion of the property, workers built a 10- to 20-foot-deep wall around ponds in a 29-acre area. Then they sealed that area with a watertight cap, as well as capping an 181/2-acre northern parcel. The company will continue to monitor the property to spot any problems with the caps.
Crews also built a new seawall where the Stauffer property borders the Anclote River and Meyers Cove.
The work cost $21 million, paid by Stauffer Management Co., which took charge of the property after the plant closed.
"The physical remediation, the soil remediation, is complete," said Bob Shay, senior manager for environmental programs at Stauffer. "We will work with the EPA with a series of reviews for the next two years, but we believe we are done."
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Stauffer has hired a real estate consultant to research potential uses for the property. Because the contaminated soil remains on the property, homes can't be built there. And Shay said there's no interest in making it an industrial park.
Stauffer is now working on the next step for the property, which is formalizing deed restrictions to regulate its future use.
There is a lot of interest in using the property to create boat access to the Anclote River, "and that's still prominent in our thinking," Shay said. But he added, "Both ourself and the EPA are interested in a solar cell or some sort of green energy project."
Tarpon Springs City Manager Mark LeCouris said the property could offer a good opportunity for a developer to put in a boat ramp and marina.
"That's always been one of our main interests," LeCouris said. "Someone is going to have the right to develop it, and the county is always talking about availability to launch boats."
A boat launch on the Stauffer property could provide much faster access to big water for Tarpon Springs-area boaters.
"You still have to make your way up the channel when you launch in town," LeCouris said. But from the Stauffer site, "you go right from there to the gulf."
Contact Demorris A. Lee at email@example.com or (727) 445-4174.