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Historic Sibley Mill Site Transforms to Cyber Technology Center

By Gail Rawls Jeter , Joseph Morici

As certain industries have closed, new ones reflecting the economy of the 21st Century are taking their place. Such is the case with Cape Augusta Digital Properties in its effort to build, own and operate a data center and develop a cyber-technology park at Sibley Millin Augusta, Ga., a Brownfields site located on the historic Augusta Canal, a National Heritage Area. The first portion of the project will be completed by the end of 2016.

In May, 2016, the Augusta Canal Authority (ACA), the site's owner since 2010, announced that it signed a 75-year lease agreement with Cape Augusta for that firm to be the site's master developer of a state-of-the-art cyber campus to be known as The Augusta Cyber Works. It will be anchored by a 10-megawatt Tier 3 Data Center and complemented by a campus that supports cyber-related companies and educational facilities.

Sibley Mill is a former textile mill that began operation in 1882 and is on the National Historic Register. Before the mill's construction, the Confederate States of America manufactured gun powder on the site during the Civil War. Based on contamination issues consistent with textile manufacturing and with a powder works facility, remediating this Brownfields site required securing enough grant funding from the U.S. EPA to clean the site sufficiently for its healthful development.

Funding from an EPA Brownfields grant must comply with the National Historic Preservation Act; thus, Georgia's State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) had to ensure the site work would not damage cultural resources.

The Sibley Mill Site

The city of Augusta has been a manufacturing center since the Augusta Canal was built in 1845. The Confederacy selected the site to build the Augusta Powder Works. After the war, the powder works was demolished, and Sibley Mill was built, which operated continuously until 2006. The result of 155 years of these manufacturing activities indicated potential contamination from heavy metals, polycylic aromatic hydrocarbons and trichloroethene.

ACA purchased Sibley Mill in 2010 after completing an extensive environmental assessment of the property with its own funds, retaining American Environmental & Construction Services to perform a Phase II ESA and support the Georgia Environmental Protection Division's approval of the site's Brownfield designation and the corrective action plan. ACA also assumed operation of the mill's hydropower plant.

To address imminent threats, ACA removed and disposed of caustic soda and dye tanks and associated lines, mercury in the boiler room, flooring contaminated with pesticides and herbicides in one of the buildings, and a former blacksmith shop, pipe and storage sheds and water tanks. This set the stage for the more invasive part: Excavating and disposing contaminated soil while adhering to the protocols of SHPO required for a designated cultural resource site.

Cardno Helps Secure Two EPA Grants

Recognizing the need for experienced support with the EPA grant-approval process, ACA retained Cardno to write a clean-up grant application that detailed the technical complexities of remediating the site with a persuasive narrative on the long-term economic and health benefits to the community.

Anticipating that the cost to complete the project, including costs for the historic preservation requirements, would likely exceed a single grant ($200,000), Cardno recommended that ACA sub-divide the project site and submit two applications for a multi-year, phased cleanup strategy. The first phase was a standard excavation, while the second phase required a much different approach to planning and executing the excavation since one parcel contained substantial subsurface utilities. EPA approved both Cardno-written applications.

Executing the Work

ACA received the first clean-up grant in October 2013, the second in October 2014. Each were $200,000 with $40,000 of matching funds from ACA, totaling $480,000. The first grant, encompassing the largest group of parcels, removed 3,412 tons of soil, 144 tons of waste concrete and brought in 3,511 tons of clean fill, 468 tons of crusher run. The second grant removed 2,577 tons of soil, 599 tons of concrete and brought in 3,183 tons of backfill.

To comply with the state's historic preservation protocols, ACA had a ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey performed to indicate anomalies, which would require monitoring during the excavation. A plan was prepared and submitted to SHPO that required Cardno's archeologists to be on-site during excavation in the areas of the anomalies, possibly indicating the presence of artifacts and structures.

One Confederate cannon ball was found, which is now on display at the ACA Discovery Center. Per the SHPO-approved plan, interpretative signage will be installed around the facility's chimney, marking it as the historic site of the Confederate Power Works.

The Project's Benefits

The benefits to everyone involved are readily apparent. For ACA, revenue from providing hydropower helped defray the cost of assessing and cleaning. Creating a viable property for commercial leasing has excellent potential for ACA's sustained growth and profitability, and the hydropower it will be providing Cape Augusta and future tenants will generate additional revenue.

For Cape Augusta, the opportunity to establish a data center that can supply a much-needed commodity for local businesses to operate, communicate and conduct their transactions is a critical component in today's economy. Its hydropower agreement with ACA will provide much lower energy costs. The sub-leasing arrangements Cape Augusta can offer other cyber technology and related companies will provide additional revenue and potential strategic relationships in which all can compete effectively in the cyber market.

For the City of Augusta, re-purposing this closed textile mill into a cyber-technology park can be an enormous catalyst for making the city a go-to destination in technology for research, development, education and all manner of commercial activity around cyber. It can bring long-term employment and steady tax revenue.

Augusta Cyberworks demonstrates that Brownfields redevelopment, supported by EPA grant funding and a commitment to a development vision among all stakeholders, is pivotal in creating communities that are healthful and economically viable for their residents.

Gail Rawls Jeter is a Brownsfields Specialist for the Government and Infrastructure Division of Cardno, Inc. She is based in Columbia, SC, and can be reached at 803-929-6059 or at gail.jeter@cardno.com.

Joseph Morici is a Brownfields Practice Leader for the Government and Infrastructure Division of Cardno, Inc. He is based in Richmond, VA, and can be reached at 803-960-2069 or at joseph.morici@cardno.com.

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