E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co.: Environmental cleanup at Peters Cartridge Co. will begin by Sept. 1

KINGS MILLS, Ohio - Plans to rejuvenate the old Peters Cartridge Co. factory on the banks of the Little Miami River largely depend on a long-delayed $5 million environmental cleanup of toxins such as lead and mercury from the soil and groundwater.

The E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Co. of Wilmington, Del., has promised to scrub the Grandin Road site in an operation that DuPont says will begin by Sept. 1.

A successful cleanup would pave the way for two Cincinnati developers to convert the empty munitions plant into 100 loft apartments plus artist spaces and commercial businesses.

The potential buyer of the 14-acre property is Bloomfield/Schon, the Walnut Hills concern that has redeveloped several old Cincinnati factories, including the American Can Co. in Northside and the Ford Motor Co. plant in Walnut Hills, into gleaming design statements that combine the charm of a legacy structure with modern amenities.

Company principal Ken Schon said the Peters Cartridge Co. site presents the biggest challenge ever to the developers.

“All the other work we’ve done in our entire career has made this one possible,” he said. “It’ll bring all of our experience to bear.”

Seeing history--and potential

Schon lives near the old ammunition plant in Warren County’s Hamilton Township and said he has driven past the structure every day for more than a decade. On each commute, he imagined what could be done with the building, nestled in the soft green of the riverside forest, with the Little Miami River Scenic Trail hard along the parcel’s western edge.

As any building of its vintage, the factory carries a colorful history. Lead ammunition was first manufactured there in 1887; the shot tower with its magnificent tiled initial P still stands.

Explosions were a significant industrial hazard. On July 15, 1890, a train car collided with two load cars packed with gunpowder, triggering a blast that killed 11 people instantly. The detonation could be heard 6 miles away.

In 1934, Peters sold the plant to its major competitor, Remington, which ran the factory until closing it in 1944.

Afterward, a string of businesses leased the site for storage: Columbia Records, Seagram’s Distillery, the Mason eyeglass company Lenscraftters. For the past two decades, the buildings have been abandoned but for a caboodle of resident cats, its windows broken out, graffiti artists tagging the walls. The biggest hurdle to redevelopment has been the environmental problems on the property.

Since the late 1980s, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency then the U.S. EPA have been pushing DuPont for a site cleanup of the lead, mercury and other toxins in the soil and water--not just groundwater but also the Little Miami River.

Cleanup: Who's job is it?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers DuPont the primary responsible party for a cleanup because when the Peters plant was sold in 1934, DuPont owned a majority interest in the buyer, Remington, which was doing the polluting with its manufacturing process.

Sathya Yalvigi, DuPont’s project director, said that starting in 2003, DuPont did some preliminary work on a cleanup.

In 2009, the U.S. EPA outlined a $5 million plan to clear the grounds of 32,000 cubic yards of soil and sediment, to be replaced by clean fill. In 2012, the federal EPA listed the acreage on its National Priority List of the nation’s most severely contaminated sites. Yalvigi said the company expects to begin work on the $5 million plan by Sept. 1 and to finish by the end of 2015.

Through the years, Schon kept driving past the factory, wondering. About 10 years ago, he made inquiries about a purchase but the environmental questions were nowhere near resolution, “and that’s when we backed off.”

About a year ago, Schon learned that the building’s owner had died, and the owner’s son, Roland Strobel, wanted to sell.

“We felt it was time to take the leap,” Schon said, so he and his partner Steve Bloomfield came to terms with the seller. He would not disclose the proposed sale price.

Still, the deal has not been finalized ,“contingent on our due diligence items being satisfied--all the typical things, the environmental being one of them, but also structural, zoning, historical analysis, cost analysis.”

Obstacles remain

The zoning issue was resolved in April, when the Hamilton Township trustees unanimously rezoned the parcel from industrial to residential. Schon said the businesses that would move into the development would be “bike-trail oriented places, with a community center, restaurant, brew pub, a gathering place, something akin to downtown Loveland,” about six miles south on the trail.

Another question ahead is Grandin Road itself, the main route past the plant. Not only is Grandin Road just two lanes wide, but it goes over the Little Miami River by way of a narrow bridge that the Warren County engineer’s office classifies as “functionally obsolete.”

Neil Tunison, the elected county engineer, said a buyer of the Peters Cartridge Co. property would have to submit a traffic impact study reporting on anticipated changes in traffic load on Grandin Road.

“They would have to provide that to us for review to make sure it meets our criteria and then we would evaluate it.”

Because of the old bridge, Tunison said, tractor-trailers are forbidden on Grandin Road for about a mile east and west of the factory, “because so many of them got hung up on the guard rail. That is an area of concern.”

The county will soon have to study what needs to be done for the bridge over the next 10 years, Tunison said, although a potential sale and redevelopment of the Peters factory will not necessarily trigger the study.

Tunison said he is confident that Grandin Road could withstand the increase of traffic from the addition of 100 apartments at the old factory.

Schon said he knows, “there will need to be improvement at the entry point, with a left-turn access, but we don’t think that the two-lane road will be a problem. We kind of like that aspect. That’s part of the character, part of the unusual nature of the project – a bike trail, a forest, on the river, it’s a beautiful, peaceful place in the mornings and the evenings.”

Connect with Anne Saker on Twitter: @apsaker.

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