City officials hope the state’s anti-pollution agency can reach an agreement with a chemical company that is eyeing the closed-down Cedar Chemical Corp. site.

City officials hope the state’s anti-pollution agency can reach an agreement with a chemical company that is eyeing the closed-down Cedar Chemical Corp. site.
Reopening the plant could provide 40 or 50 jobs in a town that has been steadily shrinking for the last decade, according to Mayor James Valley. That may not sound like a lot, the mayor said, but it might help slow the exodus.
“Our population in 2000 was about 15,000; now it’s 12,500,” Valley said. “Fifty jobs would be like a home run for a community of our size.”
Cedar Chemical went bankrupt in 2002, leaving its 48-acre site a potential hazard to the air, soil and water of the surrounding community around it. The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality took over the site and has been working to determine what cleanup is needed to get it back in a condition that would allow another company to use it.
Last week, ADEQ held a public hearing in Helena-West Helena to hear comments on a proposed remediation plan that includes razing some of the buildings, digging up potentially contaminated soil and covering the site with concrete to prevent any vapors from escaping into the atmosphere.
Most of those who attended the hearing were from the city’s Chamber of Commerce; Helena Chemical Co.; or Harcros Chemicals Inc., the company interested in leasing the site.
Valley was in Washington the day of the hearing, but said he’s hoping ADEQ and Harcros can reach an agreement.
“We have been working diligently for the past five years toward some resolution,” he said. “The city stands ready to assist in any way possible to make it happen. Jobs and economic development are the keys to our future.”
Ryan Benefield, ADEQ deputy director, was chief of the hazardous-waste division when the chemical plant closed. He said getting the cleanup paid for is the major hurdle for the project, which has no timetable or deadlines for completion.
According to Benefield, none of the half-dozen or so companies viewed as potential new occupants of the property, including Harcros, has agreed to pay the full cost of cleanup — expected to be about $15 million.
Harcros has agreed to raze several of the buildings at the Cedar Chemical site at an estimated cost of $4.2 million, according to John Peiserich, the company’s attorney. Peiserich said Harcros wants to lease the property rather than buy it.
He said a subsidiary, Quapaw Products, would operate on part of the property, allowing for cleanup as needed on the rest of the site, he said.
“We believe that our plan actually furthers the chance of remediation in a much quicker fashion because we’re agreeing to do some of the demolition and removal,” Peiserich said. “Within just a few months of signing a lease, we could have 20 to 50 jobs. We see that as a benefit for the community, which is very supportive of our plan.”