The city's plan to clean up and reuse a polluted 12-acre former industrial site in Lupton City next to to a golf course and neighborhood appears unfazed by the tumult now surrounding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Chattanooga officials on Jan. 6 announced a plan to spend up to $1.5 million to finish tearing down the old Dixie Yarns mill and capping contaminated soil on the site.
That was before Donald Trump's presidency began with a first-week directive to the EPA temporarily freezing all contract approvals and grant awards from the agency.
The EPA reportedly has resumed awarding grants, though its future remains uncertain under the new administration.
But Chattanooga Public Works director Justin Holland said last week the city is actively looking for all types of grants, not just EPA money.
"They [the EPA] are certainly a funding source," Holland said. "But it's not the only funding source. We'll exhaust any type of research we can."
The EPA remained involved at the Dixie Yarns site as recently as April 2016, when two agency officials signed a letter to Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation director of remediation Steve Goins recommending the site "be given a high priority for a removal action."
"This site condition would expose human populations and/or the food chain to hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants," said the letter, signed by the EPA's Matt Taylor and James Webster.
Environmental tests found concentrations of benzo(a)pyrene and benzo(b)fluoranthene exceeding federal limits. The EPA letter said demolition of a warehouse and flooring on the site exposed contaminated soils that could be swept to adjacent properties by rain and wind.
Exposure to benzo(a)pyrene is known to be associated with developmental, reproductive and immunological effects in animals, according to an EPA toxicological review. That review also said human studies showed similar effects.
Benzo(b)fluoranthene is considered a "probable human carcinogen" by EPA based on animal studies.
The EPA's assessment of the Dixie Yarns site followed several other environmental studies.
A senior biologist with GeoServices, a company that conducted a study there in April 2014, surmised that the environment was not being further damaged by a lack of action. But the biologist was quick to acknowledge that a lack of action was not benefiting anyone or the environment, according to newspaper archives.
TDEC will oversee the city's remediation effort. A department spokesman said in an email that TDEC has no data indicating the site poses an immediate risk.
Mayor Andy Berke said in January that the land might prove to be a good investment for the city. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee put a 216-acre parcel of riverfront land it owns nearby for sale in 2014 for $10.25 million, although the site has yet to attract a buyer.
Tosha Kranz told the Times Free Press in January she and her husband had purchased a two-bedroom Lupton City home in August that they were updating. They love the neighborhood, said Kranz, who called herself "cautiously optimistic" about the mayor's plans to fix up the site — though she worried that low-income, Housing Choice voucher housing (formerly known as Section 8 housing) might go there.
"As much as we support Section 8, we don't want it here," Kranz said. "We don't want apartments."
City officials have said that once the site is capped they will work with the community to find the best use for the site of the once-bustling mill.
Cleanup is unlikely to start before July 1, when the city is expected to take ownership of the property.
Lupton City LLC purchased the property for $220,000 in 2012. The company, which is connected to the Dockery Group of Peachtree City, Ga., started demolishing the mill and salvaging its parts for profit, according to Times Free Press archives.
But once the company took everything it wanted from the site the demolition abruptly stopped, residents said.
The company has been assessed fines and has until July to pay roughly $120,000 in back taxes and reclaim the property, city officials have said.
A Dockery Group representative could not be reached for comment this week, and a TDEC spokesman said in an email Thursday the agency "cannot comment regarding potential legal action at this site."
Holland said the city will demolish a few remaining structures and haul off the debris before capping the site with clay and topsoil and planting grass. Much of the work will be contracted, he said.
The city plans to haul dirt from other city sites to the Dixie Yarns site to help complete the cap.
"We're not under a deadline for the project," Holland said. "But we'll be working to get it done as soon as possible."
Contact staff writer David Cobb at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6249.