Neighbors rejoice at plant's loss

August 09, 1997


Staff Writer

South Cannon Avenue resident James Henson Sr. said the closing of 1st Urban Fiber's nearby paper recycling plant on Thursday was wonderful news.

"I hope they sell it to somebody that doesn't have the odor," said Henson, 68, who has lived in the neighborhood his entire life.

Several of the plant's neighbors said Friday that while they were sorry to hear the plant's remaining 53 employees had been fired, they were glad the plant had closed.


The plant had been dogged by controversy for more than five years - from when it was merely an idea to after it opened last October.

Neighbors complained bitterly about unpleasant odors coming from the plant at the intersection of Eastern and Memorial boulevards as well as about traffic and noise.

Henson said former Hagerstown Mayor Steven T. Sager sold residents down the river by encouraging company officials to build the plant in an area near residential neighborhoods.

Radcliffe Avenue resident Laverne Kendle said Sager left newly elected Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II his boondoggle.

Kendle, 69, said neighbors weren't informed properly about the plant's effect on the neighborhood. "There should have been a referendum," he said.

Kendle's neighbor John McCune of 314 Radcliffe Ave. said 1st Urban's failure could be called "Sager's legacy."

At the plant's grand opening on Oct. 23, 1996, the then mayor called the plant "the project of a generation for the City of Hagerstown."

Sager said Friday that city officials worked hard to get 1st Urban in Hagerstown.

"I was very supportive of it," Sager said.

"The citizens' comments, with one exception, at public hearings were supportive," he said.

While market conditions for 1st Urban's product are unfavorable, the plant will be operated again, Sager said.

The plant was built to produce dried pulp from waste paper that is used to make colored paper, fine writing paper and other products.

Sager said the plant remains an asset to the city's property tax base.

"Time will tell whether the facility is good for the community or not, and I have no problem on that determination," Sager said.

McCune said it was ironic that after all the troubles neighbors went through with odors and noise from the plant that it went "belly up."

Mildred Dieterich, 80, of South Cannon Avenue, said company officials didn't do their homework before erecting the plant.

"At least we don't have that odor," Dieterich said.

McCune said he had complained to city officials that the odor and noise from the plant violated city regulations, but to no effect.

In December 1996, 1st Urban did pay the Maryland Department of Environment $18,250 for discharge violations into Antietam Creek, said Bill Limpert with the department's water management administration.

The violations occurred between February and August 1996 and included several overflows of wastewater before it had been treated, Limpert said.

Company officials had attributed the violations to startup problems with new technology, he said. There was no fish kill or water discoloration in the creek from the violations, he said.

Since the plant shut down in April, for what was supposed to be about nine months, the odors from the plant have disappeared, according to several neighbors.

"I'd have to say it's become normal since they cut back on their operation. It's like we had our old neighborhood back," said Danny Moore, 47, of 339 Radcliffe Ave.

While sympathetic with the employees, Moore said the plant's closing was good news.

"We don't have to deal with the noise and especially the smell and the lies. They promised it wouldn't be noisy or ever smell and those promises were never kept," he said.

Moore's next-door neighbor, Art Dieter, said he was surprised by the plant's closing.

"I'm concerned about what might happen if a new corporation takes over," he said.

Dieter said he wants to know if the next owner will guarantee there won't be any unpleasant odors and the plant won't be an eyesore.

Several neighbors said they believe the property values of their homes has declined since the plant was built.

Moore said he is concerned because his family is thinking of selling the Radcliffe Avenue home he has lived in for about 19 years. The family could have trouble finding a buyer, he said.

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