The cleanup and demolition process at the site of an abandoned, asbestos-ridden mill in North Georgia is expected to begin within a month, after the property owner signed a settlement agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency last month.
According to the EPA, Drennon Crutchfield, owner of the old Barwick Mills plant in the heart of LaFayette, will pay the bill for the project, which is expected to last several months.
"This has been a long time coming," LaFayette City Manager David Hamilton said. "The city is excited to see it move forward, begin to see equipment on site and start the process of cleaning up."
A fire ripped through the largely abandoned former carpet mill in November, destroying the southern portion of the building that was occupied by Chattanooga-based company Ashgan Products. A smoke plume could be seen from the Tennessee state line, about 25 miles away.
The fire's cause was never established, but it took fire crews several days to fully extinguish the blaze, as it continued to smolder under a fallen portion of the building.
Though 111,000 gallons of contaminated water used in the firefight have been moved to a facility in Chickamauga, 50,000 gallons and a twisted pile of wreckage are lingering at Barwick Mills. EPA site coordinator David Andrews confirmed that asbestos is a part of it.
"This building was so old, it was about 100 years old, and there was apparently no abatement that had ever taken place," Andrews said. "It's in the ceiling tiles, wraps around the plumbing. That was classic use of asbestos, and that just sort of went up with the fire."
Emergency air monitoring conducted near the site in the hours and days after the fire did not show any asbestos particulates traveling off site, Andrews said.
Still, residents near the old mill were told to stay indoors the night after the fire because of fluctuating levels of particulates in the air.
Asbestos abatement will drive up the cost of the cleanup. Based on his experience, Andrews estimated that it could cost Crutchfield $850,000 to comply with the settlement agreement.
Crutchfield could not be reached for comment.
Andrews said there is no "drop dead" timeframe outlined in the settlement agreement, but said it might be surprising how fast the cleanup process goes compared to the months it took to negotiate the agreement.
The burned portion of the building will be demolished and the standing portion stablilized.
"I'm possibly optimistic it could be completed by Christmas," Andrews said. "I've seen stuff like this happen pretty quickly, asbestos jobs, rubble and demolition. If it goes into the new year, it probably won't go past January, based on my experience."
Hamilton said the recently reactivated LaFayette planning commission is in discussion about what to do with the Barwick Mills site after the cleanup is complete.