The Pocahontas County Commission held a special session January 18. This was the first public meeting regarding the West Virginia Department of the Environmental Protection (DEP) Brownfields Clean-up Grant for a portion of the county-owned Howes Tannery site in Frank.
The commission had earlier awarded the remediation and assessment contract to the Greenbrier Environmental Group, Inc. out of Lewisburg.
Present at the meeting were Amy Truesdale of the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation, the county’s designated economic development agency; Audrey Sampson, Vice-President of the Greenbrier Environmental Group; and Matt Ford, also of the Greenbrier Environmental Group.
The clean-up grant is designed to ensure that the groundwater pollutants that were discharged on the property, when Howes Tannery was in operation, are cleaned up so that the property can be used for another industrial purpose.
Howes Tannery, which closed in 1994 was at one time the largest producer of shoe sole leather in the United States. Unfortunately, the process of using tannic acid, produced from the bark of trees, to tan animal skins, also produced pollutants which infiltrated the groundwater and streams on the site.
In addition to cleaning and future monitoring of the groundwater using monitoring wells, the grant mandates the removal of asbestos from three or four buildings at the site which the commission plans to demolish. Representatives from the Greenbrier Environmental group asked which buildings the commission intended to demolish.
Commission President Walt Helmick said three dilapidated and unused buildings, which he said were “not controversial,” plus one building that could be controversial – the old tannery office building.
A number of mostly ex-Howes Tannery employees had, in the past, opposed the demolition of the office building. Helmick said since the building serves no purpose and would require expensive repairs because a leaky roof had damaged part of the interior, he sees its demolition as the most likely and practical thing to do. The Upper Pocahontas Community Co-op had attempted to find a use for the building several years ago, but they were unsuccessful.
Helmick also said that, when the county received the property from Howes Leather, the company had placed several groundwater monitoring wells there, and agreed to be responsible for monitoring the groundwater. However Howes Leather has long since gone out of business.
Sampson said, as part of the clean-up grant, the site would be placed in the DEP’s Voluntary Remediation Program (VEP) which will require that the site be cleaned up and new groundwater testing wells be drilled which will have to be monitored for groundwater pollution for three years. Once the remediation plan is complete, the DEP will permit industrial use of the property. She said that any fill dirt brought onto the site as part of the clean-up remediation will also have to be tested for pollutants.
Helmick says he would like to meet with Greenbrier Environmental staff at the site to go over the location with them.