Company eyes land cleanup

Brick Yard site is prepared for new development.

By: Jessica Beym
   The site of a chemical factory that exploded 50 years ago in Cranbury is being cleaned in preparation for redevelopment.
   The 400-acre Brick Yard Road parcel — the largest piece of unpreserved open space in the township — has sat unused and contaminated since a chemical plant on the site, owned by the Unexcelled Chemical Corp., exploded in 1954 killing two men, injuring 10 other people and contaminating the site with munitions used to make napalm bombs and hand grenades.
   However, Viridian, a Colorado firm that specializes in environmental cleanup and redevelopment, is under contract to purchase the property from Crédit Agricole, a bank in Paris.
   "Our job is to step in the shoes of the previous owner, take on the issues and get the land ready for reuse," said Bill Lynott, the president of Viridian.
   In November, members of the Township Committee attended a conference with the N.J. Brownfields Redevelopment Interagency Team, a group of professionals from state organizations that advises municipalities and developers on how to redevelop contaminated land and implement Smart Growth plans.
   At the conference, Viridian presented its conceptual plans to develop warehouses on the land, which is a light impact industrial zone, according to Cranbury’s Master Plan.
   "They have not officially come to us with a request for anything," said Mayor Becky Beauregard, who attended the meeting.
   Representatives from the state departments of environmental protection, transportation, agriculture and taxation attended the meeting as part of the Brownfields Redevelopment Interagency Team to provide Viridian with information on how to proceed with its plans.
   "The meeting offered groups, such as ours, a chance to present the proposals and help them effectively get things done," said Mr. Lynott. "We try to make smart use of the things the state offers," said Mr. Lynott.
   Through the Brownfields Reimbursement Fund, Viridian could be reimbursed up to 75 percent of the total remediation costs, depending on how much money the warehouses will generate in taxes.
   Colleen Kokas, a member of BRIT who represented the state Department of Environmental Protection at the meeting, said there are various state agencies that can contribute to the redevelopment or are involved in some way.
   "They let us know their issues whether it’s regarding the environment, transit, or finances," said Ms. Kokas. "Viridian is spending money to determine the feasibility of the project."
   In order to move ahead with the redevelopment, Viridian must meet certain criteria and get approvals such as land use permits, sewer approvals, and funding.
   Besides funding, one of the most important issues is cleaning up the contaminated site.
   Under the instruction and supervision of the DEP, Viridian has been working to clean up the site since the spring. The Unexcelled Chemical Corporation, which operated on the site from 1930 until it exploded in 1954, manufactured signal flares, fireworks, bug repellant and military munitions such as grenade fuses and napalm bombs.
   The factory was demolished a few years after the explosion, but remnants of the munitions have contaminated the soil and the water, and the land has sat unused since then.
   Mr. Lynott said it would take Viridian between two to three years to prepare the site before it can be sold to a buyer or a developer.
   On the township’s Open Space, Recreation and Farmland Preservation Map, the 400-acre parcel is marked as unpreserved open space. Ms. Beauregard said this means the land can be developed.
   "We’re not willing to make an endorsement until we know all the facts. For those of us who are involved, it’s not clear what steps are being taken at this time," said Ms. Beauregard.
   According to the Cranbury Township Master Plan, the land is zoned for light impact industrial facilities such as warehouses or distribution centers because they do not generate specific amounts of traffic and can be developed with minimal impact to the environment.
   Jim Waltman, the executive director of the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, said the group does not support developing the site and would rather see the land conserved.
   According to the State Plan Policy Map, the land contains more than 250 acres of wetlands, a wooded tract that is designated as "environmentally sensitive," and areas deemed as "exceptional resource value wetlands."
   "There is a significant amount of wooded, forested wetlands that are valuable to a number of species," said Mr. Waltman, who added that the land contains two streams that feed into the nearby Millstone River.
   "It’s a burned-out piece of land that’s been abused in the past and people want it to go to a good economic use," said Mr. Waltman, But if and when it is cleaned up, it should be preserved as open space."