Caution tape is wrapped around the abandoned Coats American building Monday, March 12, 2018 in Rossville, Ga. An oil spill discovered on Maple Street in Rossville contained Polychlorinated biphenyls, a chemical linked to many health risks, including cancer.

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After chemical spill, Walker County delays bids on Coats American building

ROCK SPRING, Ga. — The Walker County Development Authority delayed its decision about selling an old mill in Rossville, seeing that a dangerous chemical leaked from the site this week.

The Authority, meeting in Rock Spring, planned to review proposals for the Coats American building Tuesday morning. But Sunday night, a Rossville resident reported an oily sheen in the water of a ditch off Maple Street, across from where the building sits. Emergency responders determined the oil came from the old mill, and it contained polychlorinated biphenyl, a chemical linked to cancer, reproductive issues in men and brain development issues in children.

County Spokesman Joe Legge said workers believe the spill, which ran to the Williams Street Tributary in Rossville, "is believed to be small." Still, Economic and Community Development Director Robert Wardlaw said he wanted to wait for more information before trying to sell the building.

"We want to know exactly what's going on before we transfer any property," Wardlaw said.

The Authority unanimously voted to delay any decision for 30 days. In January, the board issued a request for proposal on the property, which the county has owned since 2007. Wardlaw said Tuesday that he has received two offers.

"Both of them are legit," he said. "We've got good ones. None of these off-the-wall types."

Rossville Mayor Teddy Harris asked who had made offers, but Wardlaw said he didn't want to reveal the source at this time. Legge did not immediately respond to a records request for the proposals Tuesday, and County Attorney Matt Williamson did not return a call asking if the Authority can withhold those documents since the period for submitting proposals expired.

County Commissioner Shannon Whitfield, who is also a member of the Authority, agreed that the board should not pull the trigger on any offers right now. If nothing else, he said, the Authority should be able to give the potential new owner a full picture of the problem.

"We want to get this cleaned up, identify any other potential issues or problems and try to rectify those," he said.

Investigators believe copper thieves caused the spill Sunday. Whitfield said they found napsacks with the material near the door. He said someone had removed the top off a transformer and tilted it over. The oil was inside the transformer.

Georgia Environmental Protection Division Spokesman Kevin Chambers said there were eight oil drums inside the building. When they responded, investigators found four drums empty. That does not mean that four drums spilled Sunday. It's possible that the other drums leaked at other times.

Also, the other drums might not have the dangerous PCB chemical inside. Legge said that of the eight total drums, one was labeled "PCB": the one that happened to spill over Sunday.

He said environmental workers were still testing the site Tuesday, seeing what kind of impact the spill had on the area. On Sunday and Monday, responders tried to contain the spill with big tubes that could block the flow of water, stopping the oil from flowing to creeks that connect to the Tennessee River. The workers also used big pads that absorb oil but not water, helping to clean up the area.

Chambers said Monday that no one has reported dead fish as a result of the spill.

Coats American was a textile mill, but the county has owned the property since 2007.

Board changes

Two weeks ago, Whitfield hired Wardlaw as the county's economic and community development director, a position that is supposed to help lure businesses, create jobs and oversee some infrastructure improvements. But with his new post, Wardlaw decided to resign Tuesday as the Authority's chair.

The Authority then voted Evitte Parrish, of Chickamauga, to chair. Wardlaw had also been LaFayette's representative on the board. During Tuesday's meeting, LaFayette Mayor Andy Arnold appointed himself as Wardlaw's replacement.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.