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Developer wants to sell last piece of land near tannery

April 29, 1999|By RICHARD F. BELISLE, Waynesboro

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - A strip of land behind an old leather tannery is stopping a 45-year-old industrial development agency from selling off its last parcel and going out of business.

Henry Steiger, one of four remaining original members of the Mercersburg Development Association, said the association still owns 12 acres of the original 35 acres it bought in 1954 to help the then-Loewengart Tannery stay in town.

At the time, the tannery was violating health department regulations by sending effluent from its manufacturing operations into a nearby stream, Steiger said. The association was created to float a series of $500 bonds, which were sold locally, to buy land to lease to the tannery so it could build settlement ponds to correct its effluent problems, Steiger said. The bonds were retired in 1975, he said.

The association carved the rest of the 35 acres into a small industrial park and has since sold off all but about 12 acres. Included in the 12 acres is three-tenths of an acre that is suspected of being contaminated with heavy metal from some old leather shavings dumped by the tannery years ago.

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Steiger said the association will sell Loudon Industries on Landis Drive the 12 acres less the contaminated sliver. That will be surveyed to see if it is contaminated. If so, it will be cleaned up and then sold, he said.

Proceeds from the sale to Loudon Industries will go to the borough for community projects. "We (the association) want to go out of business," Steiger said.

The tannery closed in the mid-1990s, but not before the Borough of Mercersburg ended up with 20 acres of its land in lieu of the company's default on a local grant it received to expand the plant, said Borough Manager James Leventry.

That land, too, had contamination problems.

The tannery had been in business since the late 1800s. Early on it tanned leather with natural bark. Later it began tanning with chrome, a heavy metal that ended up on the land, Steiger said.

The amounts found in an environmental study last year were below state limits, but it cost $280,000 in county and state funds to clean up, Leventry said.

Some of the borough's 20 acres are in a flood plain. Since the land can't be developed, it is being sold in small parcels to neighbors to square off their property lines.

The borough is keeping seven acres for its new sewer treatment plant now under construction, Leventry said.

L. Michael Ross, head of the Franklin County Area Development Authority, said his agency will help the borough sell the rest, hopefully to one company.

"It doesn't lend itself to further subdivision," Ross said.

He said he has had some "casual interest in the site, but nothing that can be construed as serious."

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