In response to a request by concerned neighborhood residents, Buncombe County is looking into condemning the contaminated CTS facility on Mills Gap Road. An inspection by county building inspectors is underway this week, with a report expected any day now, according to Buncombe County attorney Michael Frue.
During public comment at the June 21 meeting of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, Arden resident Lee Ann Smith – who lives within a mile of the site and has two sons who have suffered from tumors – urged commissioners to condemn the site’s abandoned building. In her statement, she claimed the structure is severely compromised, citing “major holes in the roof, and piping and ductwork hanging precariously from the ceiling.” She also expressed concern that the building could be a fire hazard and noted photographs that she said “revealed fresh graffiti inside the building indicative of gang and drug-related activities.”
“As a mother, teacher and member of the South Asheville community, I am concerned for the health and safety, not only of those who have claimed this dilapidated building as their turf, but for the families living near the CTS site who may be subjected to gang and drug-related crime,” she explained.
In the days since, Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chair David Gantt reports that the commissioners and county staff have been looking in to the legalities surrounding the “condemnation” designation. He says he expects the board to take action within the next eight weeks, although it’s not yet clear what it will be.
“I’d like to see it come down, but it has to be safe,” he says, noting that the request brings up several legal and safety questions the county must grapple with before acting.
“There’s certain situations in which we can condemn, and I’m not sure this meets those conditions,” he explains. “The contamination meets it. But does the building meet it? Is it unsafe and unsecured? …
“If you take it down, is that going to increase the hazards of the water table contamination, because then there wouldn’t be a building over it?” he asks, noting: “You want to make sure of these things, because you don’t want people worse off because there’s a short-run feel-good moment.”
The biggest concern is that the condemnation might unintentionally prolong the clean-up process by giving the owner the right to appeal or make improvements, says Gantt.
“It’s very appealing to do it, but when the day’s done, the people that live out there would rather get results than get some legal morass in which you’d have to give the owners time to fix it and all that kind of stuff,” he explains. “We’ve got to get cleaned up. And the bottom line is we want it done as fast as we can.”
Frue tells Xpress he believes condemnation and demolition of the building could speed the long-awaited cleanup of contamination from alleged releases of hazardous chemicals into the environment, chemicals used while the former electroplating facility was in operation. CTS Corp., based in Elkhart, Ind., ceased operations at the site on Mills Gap Road in 1986. Area residents have complained for years about the failure of state and federal agencies to move more quickly to halt the spread of the contamination in soil and water in the area.
“The problem with EPA and DENR, the way their process works, we may be waiting for some time yet” for cleanup, Frue tells Xpress.