Agribusiness  July 15, 2011

Eaton sugar-beet mill now Superfund site

EATON – Most local officials look upon the designation of a Superfund site inside their city limits as an unwelcome sign of rampant pollution, but Eaton town manager Gary Carsten took it as good news.

At the start of 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognized the 43-acre, former Great Western Sugar factory in Eaton, as a Superfund site. Under the EPA designation, the federal government is in charge of cleaning up the one-time sugar-beet processing plant. Considering the tab should be about $2 million to remove asbestos from buildings, Carsten said town officials were relieved by the decision – since the town had purchased the site in February 2010. He hopes the designation can move its redevelopment along.

The previous owner had failed to pay property taxes for seven years, while town officials had been unable to broker an agreement with interested developers because of the contamination problems. The town wound up owning the property after purchasing $80,000 of tax liens.

Now, Eaton and the EPA have drawn up a plan to clean a portion of the site and get it ready for redevelopment – a process that Carsten said could become a model for the nearly two dozen other former sugar-beet factory sites in Colorado.

“We’re the only city that’s ever acquired (a former sugar-beet processing parcel), and we think the EPA is using that as a guinea pig for how to clean this up,” Carsten said.

Legacy of concerns

According to the nonprofit Colorado Brownfields Foundation, there are 22 former sugar-beet factory sites scattered mostly along the eastern plains; the only one still in operation is in Fort Morgan. Most of the properties are about 50 acres, said CBF executive director Jesse Silverstein, with buildings usually concentrated on just five or six acres adjacent to rail lines and highways.

While the specs sound attractive, the sites’ legacy includes a number of environmental concerns. Most of the old buildings are laden with asbestos, which requires careful handling and removal. The remaining chunk of land often still contains large piles of lime, a waste byproduct of sugar-beet processing. A December 2010 report by CBF estimated that lime piles can cover as much as 40 acres of a typical site and can total up to 1 million cubic yards.

At the former Great Western Sugar parcel in Greeley, Leprino Foods Co. had to remove the lime piles before it could begin construction of its cheese factory in 2010. The company and city co-invested to come up with a solution of mixing the lime with dirt and proving the surface could hold its own. The city supported the effort since the factory is creating local jobs.

“When Leprino moved onto the site, they really didn’t know what they were getting into,” Silverstein said.

The former sugar-beet processing sites in Eaton and Greeley, along with Longmont and Fort Morgan, were the focus of the 2010 CBF report, following a series of stakeholder meetings that brought together representatives from local communities, regional economic development groups, recycling entities and regulatory agencies. The report, which was funded by the EPA, aimed to come up with reuse solutions for the properties and the lime waste, while also taking note of the developments in Greeley and Eaton.

Silverstein said that lime is basically calcium and could be used in asphalt filler, cement, vinyl products and even antacid tabs, such as Rolaids. But the report also revealed that lime is readily available throughout the country, making transporting it for reuse economically unfeasible.

One possible scenario for lime reuse could be a connection between a former sugar-beet site and a mobile cement plant that could process the waste without hauling it, Silverstein said. Other partnerships could target bringing an industrial company with a need for lime, to an adjacent parcel.

Eaton officials have long known the property came with a number of contamination issues. Carsten said the lime piles are “kind of in the corner of the property” – a presumably large corner, based on the CBF report – and that Eaton could eventually sell part of the site and hold onto the waste area.

“It’s not a hazardous waste at all, but it’d be nice to get rid of it,” Carsten said.

Focus on asbestos

The town and the EPA have focused more on the removal of the asbestos from the buildings. The estimated cleanup cost is about $2 million, and the town realized it wouldn’t be able to generate that kind of cash.

After consulting with EPA officials, the federal agency decided to list the property as a Superfund site, meaning it’s a recognized, abandoned contaminated property and the government will pay to remove the asbestos and demolish the buildings.

Town and federal officials have drawn up a cleanup plan that would take five months, Carsten said, although they’re still waiting for approval from the state health department. Then, it will be up to the federal government to allocate the money.

“The federal government moves slowly,” Carsten said. “But when it’s ready to go, it’s ready to go.”

The state Department of Local Affairs applied for another EPA grant, on behalf of the sugar-beet towns and CBF, to further explore potential markets for lime waste and to get a better understanding of how the waste has changed chemically sitting around for decades. The group did not win the grant, but communities are still looking for ways to move forward with redevelopment.

Carsten said the Eaton site is well suited for a warehouse, with the convenient railway and highway access. In Longmont, the sugar-beet plant site is close to the planned FasTracks station, and Silverstein said the EPA has experimented with removing lime from the property to treat acid leaking from old mines in other parts of the state. Silverstein said the option could provide an elegant solution to two looming, historic contamination issues in the state, but more government support and studies will need to prove the feasibility.

“The impacts are cleaning up potential problems in a town – and (the sugar-beet processing sites) tend to be close to towns since they were company towns – and taking advantage of a good location,” Silverstein said.

EATON – Most local officials look upon the designation of a Superfund site inside their city limits as an unwelcome sign of rampant pollution, but Eaton town manager Gary Carsten took it as good news.

At the start of 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognized the 43-acre, former Great Western Sugar factory in Eaton, as a Superfund site. Under the EPA designation, the federal government is in charge of cleaning up the one-time sugar-beet processing plant. Considering the tab should be about $2 million to remove asbestos from buildings, Carsten said town officials were relieved by…

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