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A sign marks the entrance to Enterprise South on Bonnie Oaks Drive. / Staff file photo

With Chattanooga's biggest industrial park beginning to fill up, Chattanooga officials are seeking to clean up another 40 acres that once housed the main chemical plant for the former Volunteer Army Ammunitions Plant (VAAP) to open up more land for new industrial development.

The Chattanooga Industrial Development Board Monday agreed to provide $500,000 collected from its share of tax payments and fees paid on other projects to help provide the local match for a $4.5 million site remediation and preparation project.

Through the Southeast Tennessee Development District, the city of Chattanooga has applied for a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to match city, county and IDB contributions to pay for one of the last environmental cleanup projects at the former TNT production plant, which is now part of the Enterprise South Industrial Park.

"This is really the last cleanup that we have (at VAAP)," said Cherita Allen, deputy director for the city's Department of Economic and Community Development. "We have marketed this site in the past to companies that are interested in sites that size, but clearly it does not show well. What we would like to do is to apply for this matching grant. ... and clean up and prepare this property."

Final VAAP cleanup

The proposed $4.5 million cleanup would prepare 40 acres for redevelopment and be funded by:

* $2.5 million federal EDA grant

* $1.25 million from Hamilton County government

* $750,000 from the city of Chattanooga

* $500,000 for collected fees from the Industrial Development Board of Chattanooga

Now home to Volkswagen's only U.S. manufacturing plant, one of Amazon's biggest fulfillment centers and the Enterprise South Nature Park, the former ammunition plant was a government-owned facility used for production and storage of TNT for nearly a half century.

Ammonia nitrate, fertilizer and related products also were produced commercially on the site from 1962 to 1986. TNT production ceased in 1977, and in 1998 the plant was declared excess government property.

The U.S. Army, which developed the 8,000-acre munitions plant to make TNT and other munitions during World War II, cleaned up most of the former VAAP site after shutting it down following the end of the Vietnam War.

The military produced TNT at the Tyner facility during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. But the U.S. Army declared the plant surplus in 1998 and has sold or transferred most of site to local governments and utilities for economic development, recreation, school property and a water filtration facility.

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An excavator mixes caustic soda into contaminated soil to destroy polluntants on the former Volunteer Army Ammunitions Plant site in 2007. / Staff Photo by Tim Barber

Forty-five years of munitions production in the World War II-era complex left residues of many toxic chemicals in the soil and water in and around the plant. The Army has demolished its munitions production and storage facilities, cleaned up the site and continues to monitor the ground water for pollution, but Allen said the site of the main plant where sulfuric acid and other chemicals were produced is still not immediately ready for some development projects.

After acquiring the former munitions site from the Army a generation ago, the massive complex has helped create new parks, school facilities and lured two of the region's biggest employers — Volkswagen and Amazon. Ironically, VW, which Adolph Hitler helped promote in the 1930s as the people's car and key to Germany's future, located its U.S. assembly plant on what was the biggest TNT production facility used to fight Hitler's Nazi Germany in the 1940s.

But local economic development leaders are eager to obtain more industrial sites in Hamilton County to lure more industry to Chattanooga.

Among the thousands of acres that were once available at Enterprise South, only about 40 acres is now readily available for immediate development, officials said earlier this year.

"This grant request would assist in preparing a portion of a 200-acre site in Enterprise South along Highway 58 for economic developent," said Sybil Topel, communications director for the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce. "At this time, the site has several challenges for development but once it's ready it would be the largest contiguous industrial site in the Chattanooga metropolitan area."

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340.

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