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Crews demolish historic buildings while containing pollutants

By Laura Halm
Published On: Apr 15 2013 02:20:56 PM CDT
Updated On: Apr 10 2013 11:00:00 PM CDT

Crews are tearing down two historic buildings in downtown Elizabethton and cleaning pollutants, like asbestos, at the same time.

ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. -

Deserted, damaged, and being destroyed -- two huge vacant buildings in the heart of Elizabethton are quickly becoming a thing of the past.

The demolition of the former North American Rayon Buildings is ongoing, but there are old environmental hazards that could impact what goes on the site next.

The old North American Rayon Buildings are past their prime. Kenneth Emmert spent 35 years working at the plant and has one thought as crews demolish the buildings. "It's heartbreaking because you spent your life here," he said.

Over at the plant there are sheets of plastic covering all the windows to protect against any environmental hazards. "That's to help keep asbestos in the building contained so that as they remove it, it's not going to get out into the community," said Jon Hartman, Elizabethton Planning and Development Director.

Both buildings are considered 'brownfield sites,' meaning old industrial sites with pollutants in the ground.

We checked with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and learned harmful materials range from petroleum to chlorinated solvents.

The next step is to clean the properties making it safe for future development. "One [method] is called capping; basically what that is, we bring in a certain amount of soil to place over the top of the existing soil to seal in the contaminants," added Hartman.

Another option is to simply dig out the soil and move it to another place on the property.

When it comes to paying for this extensive cleanup, we learned the city has a preferred option. "The EPA has a grant program, a cleanup program, that we can utilize. They offer up to $200,000 per site for cleanup," said Hartman.

He adds that would simply require matching funds from either the city or developer.

While it's sad to see the past disappear, there is hope that these properties have a bright future. "I hope more jobs come in for the community's sake," said Emmert.

Here are some more facts we found out: demolition should wrap up by the end of this year. City leaders hope to have hotels and restaurants move into the property.

The buildings were bought by M & R Acquisitions out of Alabama with a plan to improve the properties.