Apr 30

Housing out as use for old Fonda site

St Albans Messenger – April 30, 2009

City eyes incubator space development

St. Albans City, VT – The vacant Fonda/Solo paper products plant on Lower Newton Street is no longer destined to become a housing project.

An amicable split between the City of St. Albans and South Burlington developer Yandow-Dousevicz transpired in late winter, after Yandow-Dousevicz realized environmental clean-up costs would exceed what it wanted to invest in the property, said Dominic Cloud, city manager.  The city then sought the flexibility to pursue a different use of the building to recover those costs.  The city purchased the building for $300,000 and was working with Yandow-Dousevicz to build a 100-unit senior housing complex at Solo.

Solo Paper - Fonda Group - St. Albans, VT

Solo Paper - Fonda Group - St. Albans, VT

Yandow-Dousevicz is also responsible for the Hawk’s Nest, a senior residential facility in St. Albans Town, at the intersection of Route 104 and Route 36.  “Yandow-Dousevicz continues to be interested in congregate housing in the city, and we continue to be interested in assisting them,” Cloud said. “Just not on that site.”

In mid-January, a state health department health official said it was “reasonable to conclude” that past workers of Fonda and Solo had some risk of chemical exposure to chemical contaminants.  Tests conducted through the Northwest Regional Planning Commission’s brownfields program have revealed contaminants in groundwater, soil and concrete in the main building.  Specifically, the site has elevated levels of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and TCE (trichloroethene). The manufacture of PCBs was stopped in the U.S. in 1977 because of evidence they accumulate in the environment and can cause harmful effects.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the ink used at Fonda, a leading U.S. food container company, contained PCBs, potentially toxic environmental compounds, and was spilled on the concrete floor, leaving it contaminated.

Cloud has said environmental mitigation could cost anywhere from $900,000 to $1.5 million.  The city awaits word on a $400,000 grant application to the Environmental Protection Agency for cleanup at Solo. The city has subdivided the property into two parcels and, with approval, will split the EPA grant between the two sites.

Cloud called Solo “a viable development site located in a designated growth center, with rail siding.” The city could either sell the property as part of a redevelopment effort or lease it as business incubator space and use the revenue to bolster other economic development projects in the city, Cloud said.

Tim Smith, of the Franklin County Industrial Development Corporation, said at an industrial event in St. Albans last week that the region is short on incubator space.  Neighbors of the Solo plant were worried about water runoff from the site. The city met with those neighbors in March and assuaged their fears.  “We haven’t heard any concerns from the neighbors since that meeting,” Cloud said.

The Solo Cup Company closed the former Fonda Container plant in late 2005, displacing all 168 employees. The paper-products company was among the oldest and continuously run commercial operations in the city. Among its many products were cups and plates once used at large sports ballparks and stadiums.

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