Agfa site demolistion nearing completion
By Harrison Metzger, Hendersonville Times News, 3/9/2006
From his office in a stone building on a knoll overlooking the former Agfa/DuPont industrial site, Chet Meinzer and three other remaining Agfa employees can hear the demolition.
A quarter mile away, the X-ray film plant that once employed almost 1,000 Henderson and Transylvania county residents has been reduced to rubble. Back hoes and bulldozers pick at piles of concrete amid clouds of dust where once stood 1.2 million square feet of manufacturing space.
"Back over here was the old coating facility, the heart of the manufacturing facility," said Meinzer, a plant employee since 1989, as he guides a van across the empty parking lots and dirt roads.
Since October, Agfa's contractor, D.H. Griffin, has been demolishing buildings, cleaning up lagoons and grading parts of the 440-acres site. The demolition company is the same one that hauled away rubble from the World Trade Center following the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
The company has trucked tons of non-hazardous sediment from three wastewater lagoons, along with many truckloads of rubble, to landfills in South Carolina. Massive amounts of steel, copper and other metals have been reclaimed and sent to recycling facilities.
"Last Wednesday we de-energized the main Duke Power substation, which allows us to remove the last portion of the electrical distribution system," Meinzer said.
If everything goes as planned, the company this spring will turn the land over to DuPont, the longtime owner of the site. DuPont will finish cleaning up industrial wastes before donating the 440 acres to North Carolina as the final major addition to DuPont State Forest.
That may be eight or 10 years in the future.
But supporters and managers of the state forest area already looking forward to the day when the 10,268-acre forest no longer has a hole in its center.
"Once we get that property, the public will have more direct access and a shorter distance to get to Bridal Veil (Falls) and Lake Julia," said Forest Supervisor David Brown.
Bridal Veil, the unusual low-angled cascade, is now a three- or four-mile round-trip hike from parking lots on the periphery of the forest.
But parking lots on the former industrial site could one day bring visitors within a half mile of that falls, and lop a mile or two off hikes to 100-acre Lake Julia.
Bounded within a curve of the Little River, the former Agfa/DuPont property also contains state-designated natural heritage areas of rare plants.
"It has potential to improve user access and it also has its own ecological value," said Jeff Jennings, board member of the Friends of DuPont Forest.
Jennings worked 10 years as an engineer at the plant and was instrumental in getting DuPont to donate 7,500 acres for the original state forest. He said he is happy the 440 acres will one day be part of the state forest, but sad to see the end of the industrial site.
"As a former employee of the plant, the destruction of the property is a sad day for all the employees," he said.
Last year, Cedar Mountain resident Dick Thompson, president of the Friends of DuPont Forest, proposed the state park system take over the 440 acres.
He said the state parks would be better able to manage the thousands of visitors that have made DuPont North Carolina's most visited state forest.
That idea did not get widespread support, mainly because most residents and visitors are happy with the state forestry division's low-key management of the land.
Transylvania County and regional economic development leaders also pushed last year to have the British film-making company Ilford buy the Agfa/DuPont site. But that deal collapsed over issues related to environmental liability.
Under a deal between Agfa and DuPont, Agfa is responsible for razing and cleaning up structures above ground, while DuPont will clean up underground wastes. Meinzer declined to discuss the cost of his company's portion of the cleanup.
Agfa expects to hand the property over to DuPont in late April or May, Meinzer said. The only building that will be left is the stone "visitor center" on the wooded knoll that DuPont employees built years ago.
It was the mid 1970s when John Golden, plant manager at the time, came up with several projects to keep employees busy during a downturn in the X-ray film industry, Meinzer said.
The workers cleared 20 acres for what became their recreation area, Lake Dera, and combed the forests for rocks from old homesteads. They built the visitor center and its large fireplace out of those rocks, some still charred from their long-ago use in chimneys.
As they mark their final days at the site, Meinzer and longtime plant employee Jack Hinkle say the change is bittersweet.
"Well, it is," said Hinkle, a Brevard resident who has worked here 33 years. "It's going to be a change."