“A significant hiccup."
That’s how Claire Woods described a lack of “viable” bids for 87 acres in Navassa once used for wood treatment activities. Woods is a site attorney for Greenfield Environmental Trust Group, one of the entities cleaning up a swath of contaminated property in the northern Brunswick County town.
Kerr-McGee Corp. and its predecessors operated on the property from 1936 to 1974. The businesses treated wood for railroad ties, utility poles and pilings using creosote, a pesticide ingredient that the EPA has deemed a probable cause of cancer. In 2010, groundwater, soil and sediment contamination by creosote-related chemicals led the EPA to add the former Kerr-McGee property to the National Priorities List of federal Superfund sites.
A Superfund designation gives the EPA the money and authority to clean up contaminated sites.
In 2011, Greenfield’s Multistate Trust acquired about 152 acres of the former Kerr-McGee property as a court-appointed trustee “to own, manage and remediate the site and facilitate safe, beneficial site reuse,” according to a fact sheet on the project. “In 2016, the Multistate Trust purchased an additional two acres.”
As testing and cleanup efforts progressed, the Multistate Trust gathered feedback from Navassa residents and officials about how the property could be reused. After the EPA removed part of the property from the Superfund priorities list in 2021, the trust was able to seek buyers for a portion of the site.
“We finally reached a really exciting milestone in August – we issued a bid document and notice of invitation to bid on 87 acres of the property,” said Woods during a community meeting Thursday to provide updates on the cleanup timeline and potential sale.
But no viable bids surfaced.
“I think after all of the work we put in collectively as a group and how beautiful and valuable and how much potential this property has, we were disappointed that we didn’t receive anything that was responsive to our bid,” Woods said. “We did receive one bid, but I have to say that the bid that we received did not meet any of the basic elements that we all came up with and developed together to make sure that this future use is compatible with what the community wants.”
Woods did not share the bidder's identity. She said in an email Friday, "We're not in a position to share additional information about the non-viable bidder at this time. We have reached out to them to understand whether they can improve their bid such that it would meet minimum bid requirements. We will update the town and community members about next steps as soon as possible."
The bid document described the town and outlined specific criteria.
“The property that is subject to this Invitation to Bid is located in the Town of Navassa (Navassa or the Town), a community with environmental justice concerns. A member of the Historic Black Towns and Settlement Alliance, and located near the Brunswick and Cape Fear Rivers, Navassa has a rich history dating back to the 1850s,” the document stated. “Navassa is home to many descendants of the Gullah Geechee people, who were enslaved on rice plantations and later worked at now-shuttered fertilizer and wood treating factories in the Navassa area.”
The sale would give the trust and the bidder “the unique opportunity to help mitigate the economic injury that has resulted from Kerr-McGee’s historical operations by creating jobs, increasing the tax base, and facilitating residential development, and/or recreational assets,” according to the invitation.
The invitation required all bidders to submit detailed information about the proposed future use of the main property and/or water access property.
“We’re planning to speak more with that bidder to see if their bid can be turned into something that’s viable. But that’s going to take some reorganization, discussion. And we need a little bit of time,” Woods said Thursday night. “This just happened at the end of last week. So we’re going to begin the process of reconsidering the strategy that we developed.”
She said officials are also trying to determine why the bid invitation didn’t result in more bids.
“We know that it’s a difficult market out there right now. We did a lot of work to get the word out about the bid,” Woods said. “And we also ... gave quite a long time for bidders to submit a bid. So we’re trying to understand why it was that we didn’t receive any viable bids so that we can incorporate those lessons learned into the next strategy.”
She said the trust still plans to donate 30 acres to the town of Navassa for the Moze Heritage Center and park, which the town website says would be designed to hold an interactive museum and walking trails.
More details about Greenfield’s Navassa site and cleanup measures are available online.
The lack of bidders doesn’t mean the cleanup will stop, officials said Thursday. For example, additional remediation efforts are expected to begin in earnest on 16 acres in January.
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