As cleanup continues, new uses eyed for contaminated site

COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) — After removing thousands of tons of contaminated soil, trustees of a federal superfund site are asking Mississippi residents how they want to redevelop the area.

Proposals for the former Kerr-McGee Chemical Corp. creosote plant in Columbus include open public spaces, residential and industrial uses and a town center concept.

Designer Bob Barber tells The Commercial Dispatch that any final plan is most likely to be a combination of those concepts.

The Greenfield Multistate Trust is using $68 million from a federal court settlement to clean up the property and prepare it for redevelopment. Earlier, 50,000 tons (45,000 metric tons) of soil were hauled away to a local landfill. Kerr-McGee and successor Tronox Corp. treated railroad cross ties with creosote on the 90-acre (36-hectare) site from 1928 to 2003.

Many Kerr-McGee employees in Columbus, along with residents in surrounding neighborhoods, developed health problems linked to creosote exposure.

The main site's southernmost area is located in a flood plain and will likely be used primarily for floodwater retention, probably in some kind of park.

The site's westernmost area, where contamination is highest, will have more restrictions on redevelopment, which means it will most likely be open space or limited development.

All three concepts featured a community center at the northeast corner of the main site.

Charles King, project manager for EPA's Superfund cleanup work at the site, said cleanup of the first area available for redevelopment is 95% complete. He says that land could be available for redevelopment within six months. Concepts for that area include residential and light industry uses.

King said the main site is still in the early stages of cleanup.

"We have started sampling to get information on risks," he said. "I would expect the physical work on the cleanup to begin around the end of 2020 or beginning of 2021."

Columbus City Councilman Pierre Beard said he favors uses that would employ neighborhood residents.

"Jobs are most definitely important in whatever happens here," he said. "In this neighborhood, you really don't have many job opportunities.”

Barber said he would like to see some development, even on a small scale, as soon as possible.

"At any site, if there is activity, it's a positive," he said. "It begins to change the perception about how people feel about the area."


Information from: The Commercial Dispatch,