Former New Castle County industrial site has been focal point for environmental remediation and economic development
All eyes turned to the tiny village of Yorklyn again this week as hope for its revitalization continues to grow.
On Tuesday, Jan, 30, Gov. John Carney was at the Center for the Creative Arts as the Environmental Protection Agency presented an award to the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control for its accomplishments at the former National Vulcanized Rubber factory.
Known otherwise as NVF, the business was founded by the Marshall Family of Yorklyn, and was in operation for over 100 years before shutting its doors in 2007 following its bankruptcy.
Vulcanized fiber was produced by soaking plant cellulose in a zinc chloride wash that was later bleached out to form laminate sheets.
While as much as 80 percent of the wash was reclaimed, large quantities of zinc made its way into the ground, groundwater and the nearby Red Clay Creek.
The EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund’s Performance and Innovation in the SRF Creating Environmental Success - PISCES - award is handed out annually, with the site one of five nationally to win in 2017.
Other sites were in Ohio, Arkansas, Rhode Island, and Washington.
According to an EPA press release, the award celebrates the work and the importance of DNREC’s work at removing toxins from the ground and groundwater and the creation of a new wetland to mitigate flooding.
Additional wetlands, bridges, and interconnected pathways are forthcoming, according to DNREC.
In place of the factory along Yorklyn Road, a brick roadway, a connecting pathway, and a large retention basin that is essentially new wetlands showcase what the location will one day be.
Carney said he was delighted and honored to receive the award on behalf of the people that have been working on the project from the beginning.
“If you stay around enough in public service … you have an opportunity to see plenty of things like this happening here at NVF,” Carney said. “It’s quite the turnaround.”
Following the closure of NVF in 2007, DNREC began removing zinc – a component to processing the cellulose used at the factory – not only from the groundwater, but from the soil itself – roughly 170 tons.
DNREC hydrologist and Site Project Manager John Cargill said that once all the buildings at the site that were scheduled for teardown were gone, crews were able to speed up the removal, accomplishing in roughly a decade what could have taken 40 years and millions more dollars.
“It just adds perspective – we spent $3 million to dig a hole, which may seem like a lot,” Cargill said. “But what we did was spend $3 million to accelerate the space of time.”
According to DNREC, a total of $3.3 million in CWSRF loan financing was provided to DNREC’s Division of Waste and Hazardous Substances to remove the zinc-contaminated soil and create the two-acre wetland by replacing industrial-contaminated soils with clean fill material and topsoil.
Another $1 million Water Quality Improvement Loan was provided to DNREC’s Division of Parks and Recreation to create the four additional wetlands.
EPA Region 3 Administrator Cosmo Servidio said that the former NVF site is singular in its combination of environmental restoration and economic revitalization working in conjunction to rebuild a community.
“It’s the same philosophy about cooperation [and] collaboration, and that’s truly a testament to what we’re seeing here today,” Servidio said.
Servidio noted that the SRF funds for the project came out of the pockets of past polluters.
“I can’t think of a better way to pay off that fund than by tapping into past polluters and what they’ve done,” Servidio said.
DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin said that the relationship between EPA’s Midatlantic Region and Delaware has been outstanding during his tenure.
“That relationship continues under the leadership of Cosmo Servidio,” Garvin said of Servidio, who was appointed to the Region 3 position in October 2017.
In a press release, Sen, Tom Carper, who serves as top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, called the award an example of the kind of work EPA should be partnering with states to complete in a more timely and efficient manner.
“Not only do cleanups of contaminated sites reduce public health risks, they also help to revitalize communities and spur economic development in the area,” he said. “[I’m] proud to see that, once again, Delaware is leading by example and finding ways to most effectively utilize taxpayer dollars.”
The wetlands and trail network are just a small part of the larger Auburn Valley Master Plan, which incorporates public and private sector investments into a greater Yorklyn revitalization plan.
DNREC Planning Preservation and Development Section Administrator Matt Chesser, who has overseen much of the trails and restoration at the NVF site, said that it was exciting to finally see the pieces of the puzzle coming together.
“We’re seeing across the region an uptick in development, particularly in the types of projects and businesses like we’ve wanted to see here,” Chesser said, pointing to nearby Dew Point Brewing as a prime example. “[We want] local, fun, upbeat, community-driven businesses.”
New Castle County Councilwoman Janet Kilpatrick, District 3, said she’s hopeful for the efforts to change the landscape of Yorklyn.
“I think things are progressing beautifully,” Kilpatrick said. “It’s been baby steps, but it’s changed tremendously.”
She added that, as the final building to be removed comes down – the iconic “Mill Six,” with the large red NVF letters emblazoned on the Yorklyn Road side of the structure – she’s eager to see more buildings come up.
“From an economic development standpoint, I think it’s necessary for the county and the state to look at small businesses coming here,” she said. “It’s a beautiful part of the county.”
Sen. Greg Lavelle, R-Sharpley, said the award was recognition of a good, ongoing project that will rejuvenate what was once essentially a dilapidated area.
“I think it’s great to have the EPA here to remind us what we’re trying to accomplish here,” he said.
Tom Marshall, of the original Marshall family, said that progress so far was impressive.
“These are massive projects, and they take longer than I think people [realize],” Marshall said. “It’s moving in the right direction.”
“I think it’s the right time,” Chesser said. “I think it is the right time for those pieces to come together. I think people are really getting a sense, or an idea, of the vision we have for this area.”
For more on the Auburn Valley plan, visit dnrec.delaware.gov/parks/Information/Pages/AuburnVMP.aspx