Aldermen, mayor, residents discuss concerns about potential development at former tire plant site

Published 10:04 pm Wednesday, September 27, 2023

NATCHEZ — Cornelius Bradley of 104 S. Bluebird Drive led a discussion about community concerns with the Natchez Mayor and Board of Aldermen on Tuesday related to a company seeking to potentially develop the long-idled Titan Tire plant property in Natchez.

That property, which is now owned by the City of Natchez, has been vacant for more than 20 years. During that time, the city has spent approximately $100,000 per year to secure the facility.

A year or so ago, state and federal environmental officials estimated the cost to demolish the buildings on the property would exceed $8 million.

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On Sept. 5 after a special city meeting, Mayor Dan Gibson announced that a “green industry” was interested in locating in the closed Titan Tire plant, which also operated at one time as Armstrong Tire and Rubber Co. The plant at the time Armstrong operated it was the largest tire manufacturing facility in the country.

Gibson described the company as one that would produce FDA approved health products known as nutraceuticals and adaptogens.

“In layman’s terms, they will produce health-giving foods containing medicinal benefits,” he said.

While not naming the potential business, Gibson said it would be required to create at least 50 jobs and make an investment of at least $1 million in the property.

The company first reached out to the city about the tire plant property prior to the pandemic, but like many projects, development has slowed until now, when the investors feel they can move forward.

Since Gibson’s announcement, Ward 2 Alderman Billie Joe Frazier has been vocal about his concerns that the facility is too contaminated to operate in any capacity and doing so would risk the health of people who live in close proximity to the plant. Both Wards 2, represented by Frazier, and Ward 4, represented by Alderwoman Felicia Bridgewater-Irving border the facility

Bradley began the discussion Tuesday night by passing out a list of questions from community members to the aldermen.

“We have great concerns about how and when and who and whom will be there to clean and make sure this place is able to open up,” Bradley said. “We don’t know how and when this was proposed to the board, and if there is an agreement already in place. What is a green company? The citizens in our ward want to know answers to our questions.”

He said many residents of the area didn’t find out about the contamination at the plant until after they moved there.

“To find out you are going to bring jobs into a place that has been sitting there for 20 years, contamination sitting there for 20 years from the ground up, water up, in the air … We need to meet with someone, not one on one, we need to meet all together,” Bradley said. He pointed out the majority of the residents in the area are Black.

Trey Hess, an environmental engineer with PPM Consultants who has been working on several brownfield areas in the city, was invited to come to the podium and discuss environmental concerns at the Titan Tire site.

Prior to beginning work as a private consultant, Hess worked with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality for 25 years as a regulator.

“I am the person who came in and made people who caused contamination to clean up their mess. I also worked with people who wanted to revitalize a property and clean it up. I am here to share with you what we have done with the brownfield program and we has been done through time,” Hess said.

The Titan Tire plant has asbestos in it, but that asbestos does not become a concern unless it is disturbed. If it needs to be disturbed, it must be removed by those who are trained to do so by following very specific guidelines from the EPA and DEQ, who would inspect that process.

“If you are not going to mess with the asbestos, you don’t need to do anything,” Hess said.

At the Titan Tire plant in a back area of the plant that once contained a rail spur, Hess said contamination of groundwater was discovered and continue to be monitor by the MDEQ to make certain that contamination has not moved and the plume has not grown.

Gibson said that area of the former tire plant facility is not included in any proposed agreement with the interested company.

“We have a number of people in the neighborhood who have cancer-related deaths and we still have people who have cancer there,” Frazier said. “I am concerned about whoever gets this plant, the city is going to have to do the cleaning up of this property. The city is going to have to do that and it is going to cost a lot of money. And I can’t see putting a green plant dealing with food in a plant that is already contaminated.

“All of these chemicals are still in the group and we are living with that every day. I am not against economic development but I am concerned about the health and welfare of the people in this area,” Frazier said.

Hess said he and others would be doing additional assessment in the area in the next couple of weeks.

Bridgewater-Irving moved to hold a public hearing during which anyone with questions or concerns could ask questions of the mayor and aldermen. That motion was approved unanimously. A date will be set in the near future for that hearing.