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Sebring brownfield prepped for jobs hub

Michael Conny, president of MAC Trailer Manufacturing, stands on a vacant 20-acre parcel he owns in Sebring that is in the beginning stages of being cleaned and remediated for development. Conny was among those who spoke at a news conference Monday morning at the nearby fire station to celebrate the milestone....Photo by Sean Barron

SEBRING — Michael Conny offered few specifics about his plans for a long vacant and largely contaminated parcel he owns, but was clear on one point: He plans to convert it to industrial use to foster good-paying job growth.

“I acquired this property in 2020 from the Mahoning County Land Bank,” Conny said, referring to the 20-acre Royal China brownfield that sits undeveloped.

The large piece of property took center stage during a news conference Monday at the Sebring Fire Department substation, 80 S. 15th St., to celebrate a milestone marking the beginning of a long process to remediate the site that has been dormant since the business closed in the 1980s.

Soon after Royal China’s demise, some of the buildings on the property were demolished and others were destroyed after a fire broke out in 2010.

In addition, previous samplings have shown that more than 2,300 tons of soil are contaminated, officials have said.

Environmental specialists were on the property Monday to staff a large Geoprobe drilling rig, which inserted 2-foot soil-sampling tubes into the ground. Jars were then filled with samples to be collected for lab testing.

Much of the soil contains lead, paint and other contaminants from the production of china that began in the 1800s until the business closed, noted Conny, who’s also president of MAC Trailer Manufacturing in Alliance.

Lead was used to glaze much of the china produced.

“The goal is to work with the state and get ($20 to $30 per hour industry) jobs back into this town,” he explained at the news conference.

A $1.9 million grant was secured for the work, with an additional $1.4 million coming from the Ohio Department of Development’s Brownfield Remediation Program, Deb Flora, the land bank’s executive director, noted.

Monday began the delineation process to determine soil samples that will need to be removed from the site and others that can be deemed safe enough to be covered with clean soil, she explained.

“I’m hoping by this time next year, we will have a clean bill of health from the state,” Flora said.

Nevertheless, the process is complex and needs to be implemented step by step, Jim C. Smith, owner of Akron-based Brownfield Restoration Group, noted. The company was on site Monday to collect soil samples.

They will be taken to a lab to be analyzed, which could take about two weeks, after which the results will be evaluated carefully and further remediation action will be fine-tuned. Afterward, a request for a proposal will be submitted to bid on contractors for remediation work, then prepare such proposals for analysis, Smith explained.

After that work is complete, the 20-acre parcel will have to be certified to ensure it meets Ohio Environmental Protection Agency standards for reuse, then what are called “no further action” certification documents for the state EPA will be prepared to show that the site meets such standards. That part could take about six months, Smith said.

“The Ohio EPA will go through the documents with a fine-tooth comb,” he said.

After that, a covenant not to sue will be drawn up, added Smith, who predicted the entire process may take about 18 months, after which development could get underway.

The property, which used to be called the “Sebring dump,” will be a vital piece in revitalizing the town of about 4,200, said Mayor James J. Harp, who also praised Conny for stepping in and acquiring the acreage.

Also speaking at Monday’s news conference was Mahoning County Commissioner David C. Ditzler, as well as Treasurer Daniel R. Yemma, who said he envisions the project as a key step toward bringing economic improvement to the village.

Additional remarks came from state Rep. Lauren McNally, D-Youngstown, and state Sen. Michael Rulli, R-Salem.

McNally said she intends to work for increased brownfield remediation funding grants, which helped Youngstown and can benefit more rural regions such as Sebring.

Rulli noted that contaminated brownfield properties are a challenge to fostering further industrial development locally and statewide, which makes it more difficult for states such as Ohio to compete for job development with other states that lack such sites.

news@vindy.com

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