Risdon: Critics have exaggerated raceway problems
Publication Salisbury Post
Date August 31, 2007
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Brief Photo:87687,left,;By Frank DeLoache and Holly Lee

Salisbury Post

Before he proceeds with his High Rock Raceway development, Dave Risdon has a lot of work to do to satisfy state environmental officials.

Risdon said he has been i

By Frank DeLoache and Holly Lee

Salisbury Post

Before he proceeds with his High Rock Raceway development, Dave Risdon has a lot of work to do to satisfy state environmental officials.

Risdon said he has been in touch with state officials and has plans for taking care of the problems, which he says his critics have blown out of proportion.

Risdon has problems on at least two fronts:

* Sludge that spilled from a waste treatment pond in 2006 and contaminated a creek that flows into the Yadkin River. State officials have given him a Sept. 14 deadline for finishing the work or face "enforcement action."

* Severe hazardous waste contamination in parts of the 200-acre former N.C. Finishing Co. land.

In an Aug. 23 e-mail to the the Spencer, Salisbury and Rowan County managers, Hanna Assefa, an official with the N.C. Inactive Hazardous Sites Branch, warned: "Since High Rock Properties is not currently working with the State Brownfields Program to clean up and reuse the site, we would like to make each of your agencies aware that there are environmental issues at the site that have to be addressed prior to any redevelopment taking place."

Risdon reacts angrily to Assefa's e-mail, saying he has talked a number of times with representatives of the Brownfields Program and they know of his plans for developing and cleaning up the site. He said he plans to enter a Brownfields agreement at the proper time and will clean up the contaminated parts of the land simultaneously as he develops other parts.

Kathy Akroyd, spokeswoman for the N.C. Division of Waste Management, acknowledged Risdon had begun negotiating an agreement with the Brownfields Program. But Risdon never followed through and has not communicated with those officials for a year, she said.

"Without a signed agreement, he has no Brownfields protection," Akroyd said Thursday. And the former industrial site must comply with state rules governing contaminated sites, she said.

First, the sludge

In an Aug. 14 letter to Risdon, Robert B. Krebs, regional supervisor for surface water protection, says sludge that spilled from a lagoon in November 2006 has not been cleaned up.

At the time of the spill, the N.C. Division of Water Quality said nearly 4 million gallons of wastewater and sludge leaked into wetlands that feed directly into the nearby Yadkin River.

A track hoe operator trying to retrieve scrap metal for recycling broke a valve off a pipe, causing the spill.

In his recent letter, Krebs said, "All of the accumulated sludge in the unnamed tributary to the Yadkin River has not been removed following the initial discharge event. ... In addition only limited cleanup and/or restoration activities have been initiated within the past several months.

"... Please be advised that this office has allowed more than eight months to remediate the tributary. ... Due to the continued lack of effort to remediate the tributary, this office is requiring all cleanup activities and restoration efforts to the tributary be completed by Sept. 14."

Krebs said his office is considering recommending "enforcement action" by the Division of Water Quality. State law provides for a civil penalty of up to $25,000 a day "when the violation is of a continuing nature," Krebs notes.

Krebs sent the letter to F.C. Development LLC, a Statesville company that is currently grading land near the waste lagoon where the sludge spilled.

Risdon said the Statesville contractor had a "difficult time" last winter. Conditions were too wet to get a heavy excavating machine into the wetland to dig out the spilled sludge, he said.

Risdon said F.C. Development caused the leak and promised to clean it up. But the contractor's "source of funds is selling steel from the demolition (of the former N.C. Finishing complex) across the street."

Risdon acknowledged the work "hasn't been going as fast as it should," but F.C. Development has more success recently selling the scrap steel.

The company is using dirt removed during recent grading work to build berms that will support a track hoe, which will scoop out the sludge.

Risdon said he hopes the work will be done by Sept. 7.

Wes Bell, an environmental specialist in the Mooresville office of the Division of Water Quality, said Thursday that he is making weekly visits to the site to check on progress.

When his agency sent Risdon the warning letter on Aug. 14, Bell estimates less than half the sludge had been removed. "There is no excuse for the work taking that long," he added.

Fortunately, Bell said, state tests of water in the wetland where the sludge spilled falls within suitable standards, and a number of tests of the sludge showed that it does not contain hazardous materials.

Bell said the contractor has permission to install temporary berms in the wetland to support a track hoe.

But the contractor must remove all the berms as the track hoe leaves and restore the wetland area, including installing native species of plants.

"We are requiring restoration also, not just cleanup," Bell said.

Brownfields

The sludge is the easier environmental problem for High Rock Raceway. The bigger challenge comes from dozens of hazardous chemicals left in the soil and water from years of textile operations.

As recently as the fall of 2002, environmental testing found groundwater contaminated with benzene, Naphthalene, arsenic, lead, mercury, trichloroethene, chromium, tetrachloroethene, cadmium and chloroform -- all exceeding the safe standard.

That's to name a few.

Similarly, tests of soil at the former fabric finishing plant showed many of the same contaminants exceeding safe standards at a number of locations.

Tests were done in a chemical receiving and storage area; the South Building Area, where a 20,000-gallon tank was located; a burn pit/clarifier; the former machine and garage areas; coal bin and fly ash storage areas; and two former debris landfills.

On April 7, 2005, Risdon was "managing member" of North Carolina Warehouse LLC, then owner of the 200-acre site on U.S. 29 at the Yadkin River. On that day, Risdon signed a Brownfields Agreement, essentially promising to clean up the site and make it safe before proceeding with development of a race track.

But state officials never signed the agreement, and they and Risdon agree that he never followed through.

The Brownfields Program is designed to help a developer use a contaminated property while also making it safe. A company that enters the Brownfields Program also enjoins additional legal protections.

Risdon said this week he still intends to enter a Brownfields Agreement, but he says he doesn't need to include the entire 200-acre site.

"The problematic area is basically 10 acres," he said. "All three main (contamination) sites are on the plant site, and we can't get to it until the demolition is completed."

Risdon plans to subdivide the property as he develops it, separating the contaminated land and entering that portion in the Brownfields Program.

Risdon said officials with the Brownfields Program are well aware of his plans for a phased development, including cleanup of contaminated soil and water.

"The state will work with us in every way to redevelop and remediate the property," Risdon said. "They're fine with remediating and redeveloping at the same time.

"I can't tell you how helpful the people in the Brownfields Program are."

But Akroyd, the spokeswoman for the Department of Waste Management, said her agency has changed the status of Risdon's Brownfields application from "active eligible" to "no further interest."

High Rock Properties' application ground to halt, Akroyd said, when Risdon failed to:

* Pay a $2,000 Brownfields application fee.

* Provide a survey plat.

* Provide updated contact and financial information.

* Produce a development plan.

In the Brownfields agreement Risdon signed but never completed, officials with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources say Risdon's company would provide a "qualified environmental professional" acceptable to the state who would oversee "removal of contaminated soil" required by the agreement.

The agreement also required Risdon to give the state an "assessment plan" for other areas of the property, including the former waste water treatment plant, two former debris landfills and the "pond east of the buildings."

The assessment would also have to:

* Determine whether methane gas is present in the landfills.

* Assess the sludge produced by the wastewater treatment plant and "sludge application areas."

* Assess pond water and pond sediment.

* Evaluate the quality of groundwater "hydraulically downgradient" of the wastewater treatment plant and landfills.

Inactive waste site

Without a Brownfields agreement, the former N.C. Finishing site falls under the the Inactive Hazardous Sites Branch of the Division of Waste Management, Akroyd said.

And she said Hanna Assefa, an employee in that section, had full authority to write local officials and remind them that the former textile dying operation remains a "contaminated site."

Assefa said earlier this week that her section doesn't have enough employees to monitor all the inactive hazardous sites in the state. But when they hear of activity affecting one of those sites, they will try to contact local officials about the status of the site.