EDA approves pending solar field lease at Avtex
By Roger Bianchini
Warren County Report
Is a small, rural Virginia town poised to take a lead position in a U.S. move toward increased reliance on solar power – and bring the troubled 70-year story of what was the nation’s largest environmental disaster Superfund site to a happy and green ending?
On March 26, the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development unanimously approved the terms of lease and purchase agreement on approximately 40 acres of what is envisioned as a 150-acre business park on reclaimed land at the Royal Phoenix site in the Town of Front Royal, some 67 miles west of Washington, D.C. The lease is tentative pending approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and FMC Corporation.
EPA is the overseer of over $26 million in federally-funded cleanup of the site, which covers a total of some 467 acres, or about 10-percent of the land in the small, rural, northwestern Virginia town of about 13,000. FMC is a federally-mandated cleanup partner and the lone surviving of three owners of the former rayon and synthetic fibers manufacturing plant opened in 1940 by American Viscose Corporation.
After 49 years as its community’s major employer and economic engine, and a major materials contributor to the Allied war effort in World War II, the then Avtex Fibers plant was closed down in 1989 by Virginia Attorney General Mary Sue Terry for ongoing violations of the state’s water-control standards.
In June of 2009 principals of SolAVerde Inc. proposed development of what could eventually be a 100 to 150-megawatt solar field on one or more sites in Front Royal. But negotiations stalled as an initially envisioned $211 private sector start-up investment morphed into a request by SolAVerde partners for an up-front $18-million investment on a 14-year pre-purchase of solar power from the project by the town.
But with other investment options being explored, including a potential, private sector partnership between SolAVerde/Standard Energy and AMP-Ohio (American Municipal Power), things appear to be regaining momentum. AMP-Ohio is a municipal energy consortium Front Royal joined three years ago.
Former Front Royal Mayor James Eastham, now a town appointee to the EDA board of directors, made the March 26 motion to approve a lease-purchase agreement on 40.6 acres of the 150-acres Royal Phoenix business park site.
Afterwards he said, “The EDA doesn’t want to be an impediment in the process of this proposed use of the entire 150-acre business park side of Royal Phoenix. The EDA is about creating jobs and this is a step in that direction.”
While the remaining acreage at the business park has yet to be released, the EDA and 10th Virginia District U.S. representative Frank Wolf are poised to seek a fast track and eased restrictions on uses at the site at a planned March 29 meeting at EDA headquarters at Royal Phoenix adjacent to the involved 40 acres.
Several hours after the EDA vote approving a pending lease-purchase of the property, this reporter sat down with Front Royal Vice-Mayor Bret Hrbek to discuss the implications of that vote and the status of the solar proposal for Front Royal.