Taking a slice: Officials carving industrial site into smaller pieces

Published 12:06 am Sunday, January 4, 2015


NATCHEZ — The former International Paper site hasn’t seen active industry on its grounds since 2003, the land sitting largely unused since the mill closed.

But now the chance the shuttered industrial property could come back to life appears back on the table as economic developers and county officials work to carve the single super-site into tracts that can support smaller industries.

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“When IP was here, they had 600 people working for them at one time, and the companies we are looking at are bringing 100-200 jobs, so if something happens (after they open), not as many people are impacted as when IP or Johns-Manville closed,” Supervisor Calvin Butler said. “You don’t want to see any jobs leave, but if they do you want to make sure not as many people are impacted.”

Adams County bought the 478-acre property from Rentech in August 2013 after the company’s plans for a giant coal-to-fuel plant fell through. Portions of the property aren’t suitable for new industrial use, and others — the wastewater treatment plant on the property — have dedicated uses for industrial development.

The county has leased or optioned two large tracts of the property, and a third small tract is in discussion with another company. A 90-acre strip approximately 200-feet wide around the border of the property is also in play.

Two large tracts remain undedicated.

What’s in play

In early December, the board authorized its attorney to work on a lease with a manufacturing-sector company for the IP warehouse and approximately 30-35 acres. The company will eventually buy the leased property if the proposed project — which county officials have kept under wraps — comes to fruition.

“For the 30-35 acres — if you drew a kind of rectangular box around the warehouse — would butt up to the borders of the property and would stop short of where there is a water and where the big silos were when IP was there,” Natchez Inc. Executive Director Chandler Russ said.

In late December, the board of supervisors executed an 18-month option for 70 acres of the IP land for Emberclear, a gas-to-liquids company.

While county and economic development officials have been quick to caution that Emberclear’s plans are far from finalized, the company represents a possible $500-$900 million investment resulting in 200 jobs.

“The 70 acres for Emberclear is on the north side of the 30 acres (for the manufacturing company), going back toward the wastewater treatment facility and ending on about the same property line of where all that is,” Russ said.

Approximately 5 acres around the former IP scale house has been leased to an energy-sector supply company.

The 90-acre, 200-foot wide strip of land in discussion is for the construction of a loop track. The discussions for the track have been off-and-on  going with Natchez Railway since 2013.

“If you took a 200-foot strip and went around the entire property, that would entail all of the railroad loop track on the river side to the bridge trestle,” Russ said.

“The loop track in general is long-term going to be a viable component for being able to expand the rail service into the port area and the ability to have the easy flow in and out of trains and train traffic, as well as the additional storage capacity to handle future growth such as that at Elevance and potentially other rail dependent clients.”

What’s unavailable

Two portions of the property likely won’t ever be on the market, Board of Supervisors Attorney Scott Slover said.

The first, the wastewater treatment facility, will be used to support the treatment of industrial wastewater from industries already in the park. The treatment facility has grant funding to upgrade it and get it up and running, and Russ has previously said the upgrade at the facility will begin around the same time as Elevance begins its major construction sometime early this year.

The wastewater treatment facility comes with approximately 25 acres.

The second portion of the property that won’t hit the market is in the Mississippi River floodplain.

“That is needed for rights-of-way and riverfront access,” Slover said. “In the past we have looked at leasing that riverfront property out there, but we don’t anticipate there being any type of sale or relinquishment of that property.”

The floodplain area is approximately 90-100 acres, and is approximately 20 acres wide.

“(That acreage is) part of the rights-of-way for the sewer outfall pipes and some of the subsequent items that are part of the property that really probably will not be developed in the future,” Russ said.

What’s available

The remaining approximately 150 acres are in two adjacent tracts between the warehouse and the riverfront portion of the property.

A number of buildings stood on it, but those structure are in the process of being demolished.

“We want that to be open space,” Russ said. “That is one of the reasons we are basically reclaiming the property, taking the buildings down in order to put it back into green space. The hope is to retain the functionality of the property or create more functional property for the future in the removal of those structures and everything in those lines and put it into a more versatile use instead of single-use with some old dilapidated buildings.”

Slover said the county is actively marketing the available acreage.

“We get interest on those (tracts) weekly,” he said. “There are lot of projects that we pass on, that we are not confident in what they are showing, so it is not like anyone who shows up gets to buy the land. Chandler goes through the process to make sure they are a good fit for us.”

While all of the possible new industries are still in discussion stages and none of the projects are fully committed to construction at this point, Butler said he thinks the county’s purchase of the property will pay off in the end.

“As the economy starts moving forward, I think it was a good investment,” he said. “I would like to go ahead and fill up those other (available) spaces.”