Spencer seeks state, federal money for cleanup effort at Color-Tex property

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 16, 2011

By Emily Ford
SPENCER — Spencer leaders and historic preservationists hope a new state commission will lead a cleanup effort at the former Color-Tex property.
Ann Brownlee, president of the Trading Ford Historic District Preservation Association, came up with the idea to ask the Uwharrie Regional Resources Commission to tackle the contaminated site.
“I had an ‘ah-ha moment’ in the middle of the night,” Brownlee told Spencer aldermen Tuesday night.
Aldermen voted unanimously to pass a resolution asking the new commission — formed in 2010 by the N.C. General Assembly — to adopt the property as a priority and find state or federal money to clean up the demolition and debris. Brownlee said it could cost $1 million to clean up the mess.
The commission includes influential members like the secretary of the N.C. Department of Commerce, a former Davidson County Board of Commissioners chairman and a former board member of the N.C. Department of Transportation.
Also known as the High Rock Raceway property and the former N.C. Finishing Co., the Color-Tex site is located on U.S. 29 along the banks of the Yadkin River in Spencer. It gives people entering town from the north a terrible impression, aldermen said.
“It looks like the bombed out remains of a Soviet satellite,” said Alderman Jeff Morris, who proposed the resolution with Alderman Reid Walters.
A fire recently destroyed an old schoolhouse on the site.
The town has been fining the property owner — currently Fennegan and Murphy LLC in China Grove — $75 per day since August 2009 for failing to clean up piles of debris from the demolition of the former N.C. Finishing Company structures. Municipal citations total $64,550 as of Thursday, said Dustin Wilson, Spencer’s land management director.
The town and Brownlee had hoped to partner with the LandTrust for Central North Carolina in urging the Uwharrie Regional Resources Commission to become involved. But Jason Walser, executive director for the LandTrust, recused himself Tuesday night because he’s also a member of the commission.
“This is the type of issue eventually we may focus on,” Walser said.
But with only two meetings under their belts, commission members are still finding their way, he said. The group will be “very much involved” with Alcoa as the company attempts to get a new license for its Yadkin River dams, Walser said, “but I hope we will be about much more than Alcoa.”
Several commission members oppose Alcoa’s relicensing efforts.
Walser said he didn’t want to give Spencer and Brownlee false hope about the commission’s interest or ability to take on the complex cleanup efforts at the Color-Tex site.
“I’m not for or against this resolution,” he said.
Brownlee said timing is crucial because the commission will meet Jan. 18 and she’d like the resolution to appear on its agenda.
“It’s a good first step,” Walters said.
No development can happen on the site in its current condition, Morris said. If the town and Brownlee can persuade the commission to adopt the project, perhaps people who invested in the defunct High Rock Raceway could get some of their money back, he said.
Mayor Pro Tem Jim Gobbel said the property directly affects the economy in Spencer and asked how the town could help move the project forward.
Morris said the town could contribute with fundraising and zoning amendments.
“We would become a municipal partner with the state commission and explore options together,” he said.
The commission has no regular funding source but has received a $50,000 grant, although it’s not clear how the money will be spent. The commission can own property.
Foundations and other potential benefactors look favorably on efforts that feature several partners and have a historic preservation component, Brownlee said.
“We could do something really meaningful out there with a minimum of 20 acres,” she said.
The property is connected to several features that could bring in additional partners, she said. It’s the entrance to the Wil-Cox Bridge and the southern portion of the Davidson County greenway.
Next door stands the remains of the 1818 Beard Bridge, the first covered bridge in North Carolina. If rebuilt, Brownlee said, it would be the longest covered bridge in the U.S. and generate “a tremendous amount of attention.”
The Color-Tex site falls within the 1865 Battle at the Yadkin Bridge battlefield, which was listed by the Civil War Preservation Trust as one of the 25 most endangered battlefields.
Brownlee said she sees great potential to develop a heritage tourism site that could draw people from across the country.

In other business
At Tuesday’s meeting, the Spencer Board of Aldermen also voted 5 to 1 to oppose a requirement that voters present photo identification. Scott Benfield voted against the motion.
Voter ID functions as a poll tax and would have a negative impact on the elderly population in Spencer, as well as those living in poverty, alderman Jeff Morris said.
Morris called voter ID a “poorly conceived idea to solve a nonexistent problem.”
The state would be required to provide free IDs to those who don’t have one, costing even more, he said.
Several states have spent $10 million implementing voter ID?laws, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Gobbel said.
The state would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars defending a voter ID requirement against certain lawsuits, alderman Reid Walters said.
Benfield said it should be up to voters to provide identification, and the state should not have to pay for it.
Also at the meeting during the public comment portion, Bob Oswald criticized some board members for not attending town functions like the tree lighting and Christmas home tour sponsored by the Hometown Holidays Committee.
Many options exist for voter identification other than a driver’s license, and the town board should not oppose all types of voter ID?requirements, Oswald said.
“Local elections are too close to have the possibility of a fraudulent vote count,” he said. “I don’t want to have my vote negated by a fraudulent vote.”
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.