ST. LOUIS — The Carter Carburetor plant in north St. Louis, one of the city’s most high-profile Superfund sites, is on the cusp of redevelopment, likely as a golf course, driving range and putt-putt green for inner-city kids.
The chief of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is set to announce on Wednesday that the land, once home to a booming factory, now razed and remediated, will be handed over to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis, which operates a club next door. The Gateway PGA Reach Foundation will help with the redevelopment and aims to start an academy there, which — in addition to golf activities — will provide after-school resources, mentoring, and “a path to college education,” for neighborhood youth.
Flint Fowler, president of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis, said city residents hope the redevelopment will lift the psychological toll that came from a backdrop of broken windows and stray dogs. “That impacts your psyche,” Fowler said. “What had been an eyesore in the community for decades is no longer that.”
The 10-acre site, next to the the St. Louis Browns’ old Sportsman’s Park in the Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhood, sat idle for nearly 30 years before cleanup work began in 2013.
The four-story, 480,000-square-foot plant was a hulking fixture dominating the west side of North Grand Boulevard since the 1920s. The facility employed 3,000 workers at its peak, but closed in 1984.
Suspicion about contamination at the site grew in the late 1980s, and, in 1993, it became a part of the EPA’s Superfund cleanup program, which works to make potentially responsible parties pay to clean up polluted land.
In 2013, the EPA reached a $27 million cleanup agreement with St. Charles-based railcar manufacturer ACF Industries LLC, the successor to the company that owned Carter Carburetor. At the time, the agency said that carcinogenic PCBs extended down about 20 feet to bedrock.
Cleanup work at the site was completed this May, said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.
“This is a site that languished for years,” said Wheeler, who will attend a ceremonial signing and news conference on Wednesday here to celebrate the Superfund site’s redevelopment — a top focus of agency policy in recent years.
Wheeler said 61 Superfund sites have now been delisted during the Trump administration. That includes 27 sites that were “fully or partially” delisted last year, when the Carter Carburetor property was added to the Administrator’s Emphasis List for “intense, immediate action,” just months before work was scheduled to wrap up.
Scraped clean of its old buildings, the Carter Carburetor site is now poised for the next step in its evolution.
The golf oasis will serve the Boys and Girls Club and also children from nearby clubs and schools, said Fowler.
Unlike sports such as basketball or football, where the biggest or most athletic kids can excel, Fowler said that golf was an appealing choice, since the game relies more on technique.
“It’s not as dependent on your speed and strength and agility,” he said.
It will also boost access to the game for individuals in an area where golf exposure can be hard to come by. Fowler, for instance, said that he didn’t pick up a golf club until he was in his 30s.
Originally, he said the plan was to develop a few golf holes meant for use with a “limited-flight ball,” but the organization is now looking at other facilities around the country for ideas. Proposed uses include a 3- or 4-hole golf course, a driving range, a disc golf area, a putt-putt course, a multi-purpose field, and the PGA Reach Academy.
After the blueprint is settled, the organization also needs to complete fundraising efforts. Despite those remaining steps, Fowler said that, ideally, the golf facility will be close to completion by next fall, or if not then, by the spring of 2022.
About three quarters of the site will be occupied by golf facilities, but another portion of the land will be owned by the city of St. Louis, and will host an urban prairie that caters to pollinators. That section of the site will rest above some buried remains of the site’s demolished structures.
The Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis will own the remainder of the site, and reached an agreement for the state and federal government not to sue over associated liability.
Wheeler, though, said that the site is “absolutely” safe for use by children. Fowler said that similar assurances have come from a range of other agencies, including the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
“We’ve gotten all types of guarantees,” he said, adding that routine checks for pollutants leaching from the site are already conducted. “We feel confident that it will be safe for children and adults, alike.”
Meanwhile, the EPA said it will not abandon the site, nor completely remove it from its radar.
“For all Superfund sites, we continue to monitor them,” Wheeler said.
Fowler believes that replacing the husk of an old, unsafe factory with well-maintained grass and a safe place for kids to play can send a positive message of investing in the community’s young people and their development.
“It helps young people to envision a more positive future for themselves,” said Fowler.
He also hopes that the work on the site can be a catalyst for greater change in the area, suggesting that the presence of the shuttered plant had long helped deter investment along the North Grand corridor.
“As a result of that being gone,” Fowler said, “I think we can encourage more developments in the surrounding neighborhoods.”
Wheeler will also meet Wednesday with activists regarding the West Lake Landfill Superfund site in Bridgeton, where radioactive waste from the 75-year-old Manhattan Project was illegally dumped.
Wheeler said public and private entities responsible for costs there should approve a work plan later this month, and that “field work will begin soon after.”
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