The state will require Clayton to clean up tainted land before moving forward with one of the town’s most expansive park projects yet.
The town is ready to buy 39 acres near the Neuse River and combine it with other land to form a nature-study area, dog park and amphitheater. But the land, near the intersection of Covered Bridge and Loop roads, has traces of hazardous chemicals left by a research farm that DuPont operated there for nearly 30 years.
Clayton hopes to use the land through a Brownfields Agreement in which the state would absolve the town of future liability so long as Clayton cleans up the land for park use. DuPont has said it will remove the tainted soil for the town, which will pay the company $600,000 for the land.
The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which administers the Brownfields program, will require the town – through DuPont – to remove contaminants from a trench the company used for then-legal dumping of chemicals, according to a draft of the Brownfields Agreement sent to town leaders on May 12.
DENR will also require water sampling at an on-site pond and a commitment that Clayton will not use the land for anything other than recreation, athletic fields, fire department training or parking, according to the draft.
Brownfields Agreements typically require developers to restore properties for specific uses. The agreements are designed to remove a developer’s uncertainty about environmental liability, the state says.
The town applied for the agreement in September 2012 and will now review and comment on the first draft, said Cathy Aycock, a spokeswoman for DENR’s Division of Waste Management.
Town Manager Steve Biggs said the town plans to close on the property once the agreement is in place, which he said should take place this summer.
“The value for us is that it protects us from going through liability claims,” Biggs said, adding that the town could not buy the land without the agreement.
The town has developed a master plan for a 120-acre track sometimes referred to as River Park. It includes the 39 acres at the root of the Brownfields Agreement and another 80 acres the town purchased for $1.98 million in 2011.
Before Clayton bought the land, 10 neighboring landowners petitioned against the town developing the property. Neighbors like Mavis House were concerned about increased traffic flow. House now says that fight is in the past.
“I just quit; they are going to do what they want anyway,” he said.
The town plans to use the land for an amphitheater with a lawn area, hiking trails, a ropes course, a dog park and kayak and canoe rentals. Biggs said it is poised to be an outdoor learning area.
“One of our adopted goals from our retreat is to do environmental programming,” Biggs said. “If we had a first-class facility, the potential for programming is unlimited.”
Biggs said the town is still three or four years out from building the park, adding that it might need another recreation bond to pay for the project. In 2008, voters approved a $4 million bond issue that paid for the 80-acre tract and the 66-acre East Clayton Community Park.
From 1954 to 1975, DuPont leased the 39-acre tract from William and Christina Massey for an agrochemical research farm. The company studied the effect of protection chemicals on row crops planted on the land.
In December 1975, DuPont bought the property from the Masseys and continued to use the farm for chemical research through the mid-1980s, when operations ceased, according to the draft of the Brownfields Agreement.
“DuPont is currently discussing with the Town of Clayton on a potential agreement for disposition of the property,” company spokesman Terry Gooding said in an emailed statement. “It is premature to discuss any details about a potential agreement; however, DuPont fully supports a potential reuse of the property that benefits the local community.”
According to the draft of the Brownfields Agreement, some contamination levels at the site exceeded state and federal standards. DENR will also require that Clayton use no surface water or groundwater from the land without state approval.
Dunn: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104