Western Electric Property
The Western Electric site looms large for many Burlington residents. Memories of a time when the location bustled with energy and when jobs there supported families throughout Burlington stand in stark contrast to the abandoned, polluted buildings and grounds that blight a major commercial and residential neighborhood of our city.
The facility consists of 22 buildings, complete with utilities and parking lots, occupying approximately 22 acres within the city limits of Burlington. Known as the Tarheel Army Missile Plant (TAMP) when it was owned by the US Department of Defense (DoD) between the years of 1942-2004, the Western Electric site has since been in the hands of four different private property owners.
The City of Burlington does not own this property. The City is working with ALL the involved parties with the goal of getting this site cleaned up and eventually redeveloped. (Download Full Spanish Version handout)
This is a uniquely complicated site to remediate. The sale by the Department of Defense into private ownership has created a tangled web of responsibilities for the environmental clean-up. The private owner is responsible for everything above ground, like the buildings, and the US Department of Defense (DoD) is responsible for everything below ground, like groundwater and soil contamination.
The DoD is involved in environmental remediation at many sites across the country, but the Western Electric site is unique because multiple parties are responsible for cleanup-up and because the current owner has no imminent development plans. Development plans are important for the DoD as they develop plans for remediation.
A further issue making the situation with property singularly complex is that when the current owner applied to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) for a brownfields agreement, it was determined the owner was ineligible. They were denied because they had "been prosecuted for, among other things, defrauding government programs in violation of federal criminal and civil statutes." Click here to review the NCDEQ's determination letter denying a brownfield agreement. Participation in the Brownfields Program would provide the property owner with protection against prior environmental pollution liabilities and could also provide financial assistance with remediation.
Who is Responsible for What?
Clean-up happens one way and that is the CERCLA Process...so where is DoD in this?
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) is federal law administered by the Environmental Protection Agency that prescribes a very specific process for the investigation and cleanup of sites listed on the National Priorities List (commonly known as Superfund sites).
Currently the DoD is in Phase 2 of the process (Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study). NCDEQ and DoD have worked hard to facilitate a fast track of remedial action and the DoD has agreed to do a VERY important thing by removing the source of the contaminates and add a groundwater barrier before a full plan is formed. This interim work will start in February of 2024. To-date the DoD has spent roughly three million dollars on the CERCLA process.
Concurrently, the DoD is completing Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study. Following that, the project will move into Phase 3, Completing a Proposed Plan. During this phase, there will be public input to tell the DoD what you want to see as the end use of the property. A Restoration Advisory Board will also be created, comprised of community members and local government officials. Information about this will be sent to community from the City and DoD in the future.
February 2024 Interim Remedial Action Update from onsite contractor:
Crews will be working onsite within the hours of 8:00am-5:00pm. There might be some slight adjustments before or after, but no late evening or early morning work will be done that will impact the residents and neighboring businesses. There will be equipment onsite that will include a mini-excavator (minimal motor noise during excavation) and trucks to hold stockpiled materials for disposal. There is anticipated to be 2-3 truckloads of 55-gallon drums stockpiled onsite for future disposal. Crews will also be using a drill rig, some drilling noise may be heard when penetrating concrete. There will be reduced noise when penetrating soil.
Tentative Timeline of DoD to Step 4. See DoD Full PowerPoint Presentation from 1/23/24.
What has the City of Burlington done so far to keep pushing this forward?
- Established Western Electric on the National Register of Historic Places, unlocking the opportunity for historic tax credits to assist with redevelopment costs.
- Included the Western Electric property in Burlington’s Federal Opportunity Zones (OZ), providing further tax and investment tools to assist with redevelopment.
- Worked with the American Institute of Architects to get a Sustainable Design Assessment Team Grant. The grant’s goal was to develop a community-based vision for the property through a process that included on-site tours, stakeholder input, presentations on the cleanup process, and analysis of site’s development potential. This was done in in 2018. View Final Document.
- Work with Burlington’s Federal elected officials to convince the Secretary of the Army to elevate the Western Electric property to a critical status and appoint the Army Environmental Command’s top project manager to oversee the CERCLA cleanup process.
- Worked with the property owner to market the Western Electric site to multiple real estate developers in attempt to spur significant investment and redevelopment.
- Created an internal City of Burlington Western Electric task force including representatives from Planning, Engineering, Police, Fire, Code Enforcement and Economic Development.
- Provided regular updates on the status of the site at City Council meetings and work sessions.
- Participated as panelists and participants in a 2023 Environmental Justice forum hosted by community groups and the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences. Participants included representatives from NIH, US EPA, NCDEQ, NC Governor’s office and the White House.
You can help our elected officials by adding your voice to the process. Your voice will help them as they make the case for a complete and thorough clean-up of the site.
Share why the clean-up and revitalization of Western Electric is important to you and your community. The most effective testimonies will be personal and specific. Those form letters that some organizations ask you to copy and forward don’t make a strong impact. Share your memories of what the site used to mean to Burlington and what you want for its future.
Do you remember the traffic when a shift ended? Did you meet a family member at Western Steakhouse on their lunch break? What do you feel when you see the abandoned buildings? What would it mean to you if the location once again provided jobs or homes or recreation?