As Mills Gap residents looked on, an attorney representing the current owner of the former CTS of Asheville plant appealed to local government officials, asking them not to move forward with their plan to demolish the derelict plant building. Attorney Billy Clarke, representing Mills Gap Road Associates, told the presiding officials — Buncombe County Assistant Attorney Kurt Euler, County Attorney Michael Frue, and County Building Inspector Matt Stone — that the owners want to stabilize the building instead.
Mills Gap neighbors have complained that the building is not secure, and a county inspection in June revealed numerous holes in the roof, and open windows and doors, evidently allowing access to vandals who left extensive grafitti. Neighbors want the building demolished as a first step in cleaning up the contamination at the site, where they say dumping of hazardous chemicals by plant operators is the cause of widespread contamination of area soils, surface water and groundwater.
But Mills Gap Road Associates said in a written statement delivered by Clarke that it prefers to stabilize the building rather than demolish it, “boarding up doors and windows, if doing so would prevent condemnation.”
The former CTS property is all but officially listed as a Superfund site, a move that would place it among the most contaminated sites in the nation, enabling the cleanup neighbors have awaited for decades. And while a large sign with EPA’s Superfund logo has recently been erected in front of the shuttered CTS plant, the official listing has been delayed as the EPA analyzes the public comments it must consider first.
Meanwhile, the prospect of condemnation has become part of an ongoing dispute between MGRA and CTS. The two entities have been involved in a lawsuit filed in District Court last July over the cost of implementing an EPA administrative order to clean up the contaminated site. The seeds of this dispute were planted when MGRA purchased the property in 1987; at that time, CTS claimed that the property was in compliance with all environmental laws and regulations — a claim that has been rejected by public agencies and local residents investigating the source of contamination of soils, surface water and groundwater downhill from the site.
Late last month, CTS asserted in a letter to MGRA that the latter has defaulted on its agreement to keep the premises in good repair — as evidenced by the condemnation proceedings. In the letter, CTS demanded the immediate payment of the principal sum of their promissory note with MGRA, plus interest. Complicating the situation for MGRA is the county’s intention to place a lien on the property, as a means of recovering the cost to taxpayers if the building is demolished.
On Sept. 15, officials from EPA’s Superfund program, including Branch Chief Don Rigger, were in Asheville to host a “public availability session” in the community. EPA contractors also collected a fresh round of samples from contaminated wells and springs in the area.
For their part, beleagured Mills Gap residents would be glad to see the derelict building gone, resident Tate MacQueen tells Xpress. “However, if the shell of the building goes, and the contamination underneath is not addressed, then it’s just an exercise in beautification, by concealing the wound. There is the potential for a whitewash here,” he continues, “and that’s the last thing we can afford. This should be a case study for EPA Region 4, for how to turn a wrong into a right.”