Saturday, June 23, 2018
News Roundup

Polluted Clearwater site could be attractive to technology companies

CLEARWATER — The big beige warehouse in an area full of them doesn't immediately appear to be a potential municipal gem.

But looks can deceive.

At approximately 5 acres, the former Metal Industries site at 1310 N Hercules Ave. is probably the largest available parcel in the city zoned for light-industrial or technology use.

It is a potentially attractive location for that golden egg-laying goose of city planners' dreams: a tech company.

There's one problem. Contamination of the soil and groundwater on the parcel have made it difficult to market, city officials say.

J.T. Walker Industries, which owns the site, is working with the state Department of Environmental Protection on a plan to clean it up. Depending on the price tag, the city might be interested in taking on the job.

Walker Industries has previously offered to donate the land to the city, Clearwater officials said. The city is waiting to see how expensive the cleanup of the property might be.

"It's too good to let it sit idle," said Ed Chesney, the city's environmental manager. "It's the biggest (light-industrial) piece that we know of. That's real popular with tech companies."

Walker Industries officials didn't respond to multiple requests for comment.

According to a DEP study, the facility opened in the mid 1950s and manufactured air-conditioning grilles, registers and other products. Operations ceased in March 2008, according to state documents.

The just market value of the property is $1.65 million, according to the Pinellas County property appraiser's office.

The source of the soil and groundwater pollution is chlorinated solvents that were used for degreasing metal parts. The solvents aren't a public health risk, said Ana Gibbs, a DEP spokeswoman.

Tests have shown that the plume of contaminated groundwater has spread to neighboring industrial properties. DEP is waiting for confirmation that all property owners have been notified before proceeding on the approval of the cleanup plan, Gibbs said.

There are also metals, including chromium, in the soil on the site, according to the state report. Chromium is considered a toxic carcinogen by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. The state's investigation found minimal and isolated levels of chromium and other metals.

Gibbs added that an interim cleanup operation was approved in 2004.

Geri Lopez, the city's economic development and housing director, said the city could declare the site a brownfield and apply for federal grants to help pay for cleaning it up.

"There's not a lot of available land that is zoned industrial. It's a great location for an industry like tech that would be beneficial to the city," Lopez said.

Charlie Frago can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4159. Follow @CharlieFrago on Twitter.

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