Clean environmental report clears hurdle for Pilgrim’s Pride site purchase

ATHENS, Ala. - Some good news brings the city of Athens one step closer to buying and clearing the abandoned Pilgrim's Pride industrial site.

Officials with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) gave Athens city council news they anxiously awaited: a report shows the blighted property has no chemical issues beneath the surface.

City Councilman Harold Wales says it's a relief.

"The complete project depended on that," he explained. "If it came back and the report had been there was just dirty soil all over and it would take an unlimited amount of money to fix it, I think the council would've backed away from it."

The good news brings the city closer to purchasing the site for $550,000. Wales explains they are waiting on a report to determine how much more the city would have to pay to clear the property.

"All we’re waiting on now is to find out the cost it's going to take to clean the property up," said Wales. "Tear down the buildings, demo all those buildings, get the asbestos out and maybe haul in some dirt and go from that."

"The mayor has estimated it'll cost the city about $1.2 million to get it to the point where you could just sow and mow the grass," explained city spokesperson Holly Hollman.

Wales says residents in that area constantly express excitement at the thought of the old buildings being demolished.

City Council President Chris Seibert also weighed in, sending WHNT News 19 the following statement.

"The Pilgrim’s Pride property is a project we’ve been working on for quite some time.  We are in our final stages of due diligence and have been pleased with the findings to this point.  Both Phase 1 and Phase 2 ADEM studies have been favorable.  We have a few more demolition quotes to gather and hope to complete this phase within a week.  All information looks promising."

Meanwhile, Wales says, they are mulling over plans for the site's future.

Athens Rotary is interested in part of the site being repurposed as a park for the public, incorporated a creek and bridge already on-site.

"We've also talked about mixed use property, maybe some business, some apartments," said Wales.

City officials say it will also consider selling parts of the property to developers, which could help them recoup part of the cost of cleaning the site.

From the beginning, Mayor Ronnie Marks said it would be a great location for high-end apartments for millenials and young families, a residential need yet to met in Athens.

Plus, Hollman says there is interest in further development in the area, due to it being in a prime area close to the new Athens High School, downtown, and Athens State University.

"It's a blighted piece of property," said Hollman. "Thirty-plus acres, no one wants to live next to that, and you have open acreage next to it that nobody wants to develop as long as that blighted area is there."

The city council will also soon open bids on asbestos removal. City officials hope to start tearing the site down by spring.