Polluted Henrico parcel gets makeover

rentokil1A site in Henrico County is slated for commercial development almost 30 years after being identified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a threat to public health.

Virginia Beach-based Empire Development purchased 3.85 acres of the Rentokil Superfund site near the intersection of Parham Road and Ackley Avenue for about $400,000 last year from Virginia Properties, a subsidiary of Rentokil. The entire Superfund site is 10 acres.

Hugh Tierney, the company development manager, said the firm plans to build three 12,000-square-foot flex condominiums on the property. Flex space is designed for either industrial or office use. The estimated cost of construction is more than $3 million.

Tierney said the selling price is $120 per square foot for an entire building. Leasing might be available on a case-by-case basis.

The buildings will share a large parking lot, and each will be equipped with loading docks or drive-in doors. Tierney said he chose the site because of its central location between Innsbrook and downtown.

On Jan. 26, the portion of the site slated for the development project was placed on a federal register to be removed from the National Priorities List, a list of sites across the country that “appear to present a significant risk to public health, welfare, or the environment,” according to the EPA.

There is a 30-day comment period for residents to challenge the removal, which will close Feb. 26. If there are no comments, the property will be removed from the list March 26. At that point the developer will be able to finalize their plans with the county.

Tierney said the company is in the process of securing financing.

“These are interesting times from a financing perspective,” Tierney said. “The key is we need to be 50 percent pre-leased to start construction, and we don’t have that yet because we have been wrapping up the permitting process.”

Tierney said he hopes to break ground by the end the year.

The pollution was caused by a lumber treatment facility that operated on the site beginning in 1957. Over the years, ownership changed hands a few times. In 1974, Rentokil took control of the company that owned the site at the time.

Chemicals from the wood treatment process eventually spread and contaminated the wetlands around the facility. Environmental contamination was first identified by the EPA in 1987.  Two years later, the site was placed on the National Priorities List.

In 1990, Rentokil, operating as Virginia Wood Preservers, ceased wood treatment operations at the site and the long process of cleaning up began.

The EPA said that chemicals from the wood treatment process had contaminated the soil and groundwater. High concentrations of arsenic were found, in addition to other carcinogenic chemicals.

The arsenic and other toxic chemicals threatened the endangered Eastern Tiger Salamander inhabiting the wetlands, and surface runoff from the area eventually flowed into the Chickahominy River.

The cleanup consisted of installing concrete barriers, excavating the soil, replanting vegetation, extracting groundwater and capping the site of the treatment facility.  Another component of the cleanup involved converting more than six acres of cropland into new wetlands in Charles City County to compensate for the wetlands lost at the Rentokil site.

A portion of the wetlands around the treatment facility were restored. The new development is planned for the former wetland areas of the site that were not restored.

In September 2008, a review by the EPA determined that the environmental threats had been contained. Only certain portions of the site are proposed to be completely removed from the National Priorities List. The remaining portions are subject to EPA review every five years.

There are six more Superfund sites in Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield.

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