Boys and Girls Club plans to transform chemical waste lot to golf facility

6 Dec

From environmental hazard to a vision of hope and community outreach, the lot which was formerly home to the Carter Carburetor Corporations factory will now be transformed into a golf facility for children in the neighborhood.

The now empty lot once held a factory which was abandoned and left vacant for over 30 years. A resident of the community said he remembered the factory being well and active when he was a kid living in this area. This resident asked not to be recorded or have his name mentioned.

“It was a car part factory,” the resident said. “They would make parts for a bunch of car  companies and then they just tore it all down so now there is just that empty lot. I don’t know what they are going to do with it now.”

The former gasoline and diesel carburetor manufacturing plant left behind large amounts of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB) and trichloroethylene (TCE). Former U.S. Rep William Lacy Clay Jr. said this site is the result of a much bigger problem in America.

“Far too often, older urban neighborhoods with mostly minority populations are turned into toxic dumping grounds,” Clay said in the St. Louis American. “That environmental racism is shameful, and it has been going on for decades.”

This forced the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to step in and label this 10-acre land a superfund site. Region 7 of the EPA overlooks most of the midwest including Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. They deemed the Carter Carburetor building as a federal superfund site in 1992.

Flint Fowler, director of the Boys and Girls Club of St. Louis, described the abandoned factory as a hardship on the neighborhood. He said it was driving away money and residents out of the community due to the conditions of the building. 

“It was contaminated, and it was ugly,” Fowler said. “It wanted to get the building down to make that part of the neighborhood more safe and create a better environment for children. If you are looking at busted windows, overgrown grass and signs that say ‘danger’ it leaves a psychological impact on not only the kids but the residents as well.”

The abandoned factory was located in the center of what is known as the “open market” ,according to the Fourth District Police Captain. This is not a supermarket of fresh fruit, baked goods and well priced clothing. Rather this area of grand is widely reported for it open drug distribution, drug usage and prostitution. 

Residents in the area were reluctant to speak on record, wanting to keep their name and face out of the media. The neighborhood contains people walking around carrying firearms. Stray dogs roam the streets and nearby echoes of gunshots aren’t even flinch worthy for those waiting at the bus stop. Fowler and the Boys and Girls Club of St. Louis want to use this project to inspire some development in the area. 

Fowler said there were two main parts to this mission. The first part being to get rid of the building which he described as an eyesore for the community. This included a negotiation between Carter Building Incorporated (CBI) and American Car and Foundry (ACF) Industries. ACF and EPA came to legal agreements in 2013, making ACF responsible for removing asbestos from the building and then the complete demolition of the building. Demolition of the building began in 2015

The next steps ACF agreed to complete was removing all the PCB and TCE from the soil on the superfund site. According to Fowler, due to the agreement between EPA and ACF, public money did not have to be used for the clean-up of this site as ACF paid for all expenses. Jeff Weatherford, EPA’s on-site coordinator for this project, told NPR the contaminated waste would be shipped out on a truck to a chemical waste landfill in Oklahoma. In total the cleanup cost $30 million.

The second part of Fowler’s plan is to come up with an idea to replace the factory which would be useful to the neighborhood. The Boy and Girls Club of St. Louis is now working with the PGA reach program to finalize the design and development of a golf center which will replace the Carter Carburetor Factory. Fowler said building a golf facility will introduce a sport which is highly profitable to a community which does not have a lot of exposure to it.

“When you think about things like environmental justice and how certain communities are left to hold the bag and responsible parties are not held accountable for what they do in certain communities becomes an environmental crisis,” Fowler said. “That building was all to stand for so long without a lot of pressure to get rid of it that it ultimately impacted the welfare and the health of the neighborhood. Not only physical and psychological health, but the vibrancy as well.”

The Boys and Girls Club of St. Louis and the PGA Reach program plan to meet in early December and finalize a plan to finish production of the golf center. Fowler said he hopes to have the facility up and ready for use by 2023.

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