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Cleanup may lead to prosperity in Rockwood

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By The Staff

By CHERYL DUNCAN

cduncan@roanecounty.com

For the first time in decades, workers are on site at the old Roane Alloys property in the Roane County Industrial Park in Rockwood.

This time around, however, workers are in the midst of undoing damage the former industry inflicted on the land and an adjoining body of water.

But officials are confident that the cleaned-up property can again be used to generate jobs in the Tennessee Valley.

“It will be an attractive site for business and industry,” said Rockwood Mayor James Watts.

“It’s one of the few sites in Roane County that has access to rail, access to the interstate,” Watts said. “And I predict it will be a successful site once they get all their work complete.”

The work the mayor refers to is a remediation overseen by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and financed by property owners, Roane Holdings Ltd. of the British Virgin Islands and Missouri’s Commercial Development Co.

“The property owner is addressing chromium slag that has contaminated Cardiff Creek,” said Tisha Calabrese-Benton, communications director in TDEC’s Knoxville office. “They are constructing new waste landfills onsite and rerouting Pyott Branch and Cardiff Creek around the slag piles.”

The former Roane Alloys site is a vast spread on Black Hollow Road.

The industry, which ceased production of manganese in 1982, at one time employed up to 1,200 people. It did business under  names such as Tennessee Products, Roane Electric and Roane Ltd.

“To my knowledge, they’ve not run into any problems that would be a hazard to the citizens of Rockwood,” Watts said. “All the work that’s being done there is being done for one purpose, and that’s to get rid of the contamination that’s been there since the 1950s.”

With its largest parcel estimated at about 270 acres, the land is visible from Rockwood’s heavily traveled Hwy. 27.

Heavy equipment and environmental workers are often seen by motorists traveling between Rockwood and Harriman, as well as people patronizing nearby Walmart and Sonic Drive-In.

In an e-mail, Calabrese-Benton said remedial action on the property is not being undertaken through a brownfield agreement.

“However, the site is a brownfield in that it is an underutilitized industrial site with contamination issues that may be hindering its reuse,” she added.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines brownfields in a similar manner.

According to the agency, the designation is given to property that cannot be redeveloped or reused because of pollutants, contaminants or hazardous substances.

“Cleaning up and reinvesting in these properties protects the environment, reduces blight and takes development pressures off greenspaces and working lands,” according to the EPA.

Brownfield agreements help allow abandoned and contaminated properties to be redeveloped in several ways.

They define the environmental areas for which a prospective developer may be held liable and spell out what is expected to make the site safe for redevelopment.

Lenders, who might be concerned about the prospect of open-ended liability on such properties, are more likely to agree to financing after such a cleanup.

In the Rockwood property’s case, chromium slag is the byproduct of the former Roane Alloys’ manufacturing process of manganese.

Overexposure to chromium, according to The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, can result in skin ulcers, stomach problems and cancer.

Calabrese-Benton said the 14-month remediation process will include a number of steps, including rerouting both Cardiff Creek and Pyott Branch to move their channels away from slag disposal areas to prevent contamination.

Vegetated clay caps will be constructed over the slag to prevent surface exposure and water infiltration. Ferro-manganese slag will be recycled to produce new steel.

“Whatever amount of ferro-manganese slag isn’t utilized in construction onsite will be transported to steel mills in Pittsburgh and/or Chicago for reuse,” Calabrese-Benton said in her e-mail.

The clean-up process began last March with a public meeting in Rockwood.

Roane Holdings Limited and Commercial Development Co. have agreed to pay for both the remediation and TDEC’s oversight of the work, which Calabrese-Benton said her department anticipates will be finished by November.

Watts, for one, is anxious for the work to be completed.

He views the reclamation as action that might draw an industry or business to the area and create jobs, a key toward bringing his city and Roane County out of the recession.

“It will be a key location, once this firm gets the property reclaimed,” he said, “and it will be a viable industrial site.”