Economic Development and Manufacturing & Technology and Transportation, Distribution & Logistics

NaClor picks spot for $40 million plant: South-side parcel considered for chemical factory

November 6, 2006

Backers of a proposed $40 million Indianapolis chemical plant are eyeing a south-side parcel near White River, but neighbors worry fumes from the facility will drag down property values nearby.

In the spring, local economic development groups trumpeted Indianapolisbased NaClor Inc.'s decision to build the plant here. In return for the 53 new jobs-making bleach and other chemicals used in soaps, detergents and water quality treatment-the state promised $2.8 million in tax cuts and training grants, and the city offered a 10-year tax abatement worth $1.4 million.

But now that the newly formed company has set its sights on a 13-acre parcel just northeast of the intersection of Harding Street and Hanna Avenue, neighbors and city planners are raising questions about the plant's safety and proximity to an aquifer.

The area, which is targeted for commercial development in the city's long-range plan, is home to a combination of light-industrial businesses, vacant lots and a handful of residences. Indianapolis Power & Light Co. also operates a plant nearby.

Still, neighbors worry that a chemical factory would cause problems.

"I am pro-development, very much so, but it should be done in a responsible manner," said John Neely, who owns PFM Automotive Management Inc., a vehicle maintenance operation at 1402 E. Hanna Ave.

NaClor co-founder Ken Gregory said neighbors shouldn't worry.

Although the plant would use chlorine in the manufacturing process, it would be made on-site and stored in low quantities-a new system only two other bleach makers in the country are using.

In traditional bleach production, rail cars haul in 180 pounds of chlorine at a time and are stored on site, posing a potential threat. In early 2005, a train crash in South Carolina caused one chlorine tanker to leak, killing eight people.

"Homeland Security has identified chlorine shipment as one of the largest threats we have," Gregory said. "We eliminate that chlorine [rail] car and the transportation altogether."

With that system, he said, any potential leak would release no more chlorine than is contained in a public swimming pool.

In fact, Gregory and Indianapolis attorney S. Andrew Burns founded NaClor in 2004 specifically to build the plant using the new production method.

Gregory, 36, grew up in Eaton and has worked in the chemical industry since college. He declined to say how NaClor is financing the project.

Despite the assurances, PFM Automotive's Neely said he also worries about whether fumes from the plant would harm his property value.

"If it's detrimental to people's health, property values go down because people don't want to be around that," Neely said.

Gregory said he's planning to go door to door talking with neighbors to explain the plans and said odor shouldn't be a problem. He said commercial-grade bleach is odor-free.

The Indianapolis area already is home to two bleach manufacturers, he said: GAC Chemical Corp. on Senate Avenue just south of Interstate 70 and JCI Jones Chemical Inc. in Beech Grove.

Beech Grove Fire Department spokesman Keric Fitzgerald said calls about odor near the Beech Grove plant are rare.

"It's never really been a problem," he said.

One potential NaClor neighbor said he hopes the plant ends up being as great as promised, but worries about the long-term impact.

"It's hard for me to say I don't want something commercial to go in," said Randy Aufderheide, who owns Dean Well Drilling Inc. at 1440 W. Hanna Ave. and lives nearby. "But a chemical plant will be a rough one. Once it's in, you can't really move it out."

Aufderheide and his parents both own homes that abut the planned chemical factory. He said the area, which is zoned industrial in the comprehensive plan, is losing its residential feel.

"It's all turning commercial," he said. "I see the handwriting on the wall."

NaClor has applied for rezoning to allow for chemical manufacturing. If it's successful, it will lease eight acres of the parcel for its plant, said Linda Kopetsky, who owns the property with her brother Steve. They are looking for a tenant for the remaining five acres with frontage on Harding Street.

A zoning hearing is scheduled for Nov. 30. Planning staff have not yet made a recommendation on the case, but they've asked for additional information about truck traffic and what chemicals the plant will use. Gregory said that if zoning and construction proceed as expected, NaClor will begin hiring employees in the fourth quarter of 2007.
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