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Donated recreation site needs environmental review

October 24, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

HEDGESVILLE, W.Va. -- Standing in the way of a new recreation area envisioned for about 78 acres near Hedgesville are environmental concerns stemming from the remnants of a brick-making plant built almost 100 years ago.

Sitting on the land, where the Adamantine Clay Products Co. built the plant in 1911, is a large pile of defective bricks and a large amount of ash and clinkers, according to Clint Hogbin, chairman of the Berkeley County Solid Waste Authority, and historical accounts.

The current land owner, LCS Services Inc., a subsidiary of Waste Management Inc., signed a nonbinding letter of intent in March to donate the property for recreational use, according to a copy of a letter Hogbin released last week.

But because the land has an industrial past, an environmental assessment has to be completed, Hogbin said.

"I suspect before it's all said and done, there will be a need to do soil and water sampling," Hogbin said.

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Waste Management's willingness to pay for the assessment, which the solid waste authority is waiting to review, represents an "enormous effort on their part," Hogbin said.

With the proposed land donation, LCS Services acknowledged it had abandoned its interest in developing a railroad connection to the nearby North Mountain Sanitary Landfill, which it operates, according to the letter of intent.

"The transfer of such property would not require any compensation from the community and is intended to be provided as a community benefit and to make clear that LCS has no intention to develop rail haul facilities at the landfill," the letter of intent says.

The shipping of waste via rail to the landfill once was "a huge concern" that Hogbin said almost became a reality.

State limits placed on the amount of waste tonnage allowed to be disposed at landfills effectively made the idea not feasible for LCS, Hogbin said.

By establishing the rail connection with what now is the CSX railroad, LCS essentially would have re-established a rail spur or siding at the brick plant property, according to a West Virginia Geological Survey report on the Eastern Panhandle that was published in 1916.

"Sidings from the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad are arranged for loading brick from the kiln compartments into the cars and for bringing coal convenient to the producers and driver. The machinery is operated by steam and the driver is fired by coal furnaces ..." wrote G.P. Grimsley, an assistant state geologist.

The company mined shale from a belt of the rock that outcropped along the east side of North Mountain, and bricks were shipped to Martinsburg, W.Va., and to eastern and southern cities. A large quantity was used on the new tunnel work of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad near Paw Paw, W.Va., according to Grimsley's report.

The buildings were destroyed by fire in the summer of 1915, but were rebuilt and in operation by January 1916, according to Grimsley's report.

The brick-making operation continued, albeit under different ownership through the years until the early 1970s, and Hogbin estimated there is 300,000 cubic yards of defective brick piled on the property.

It appears to be a forest until you look beneath the fallen leaves, Hogbin said.

While the brick plant buildings have long since been leveled, Hogbin said a portion of the property never has been developed and remains in its natural state.

A small stream also flows through the property and a portion of the land is not readily accessible because the active CSX line cuts it off from the other part, Hogbin said.

Given the challenges, Hogbin said he believes it will take more "time, patience and money" to convert it to recreational use ... "but were not going to let go of this (opportunity)."

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