With few concrete details but a boatload of excitement, local and state elected officials gathered Friday to usher in a new life for a piece of property on the Delaware River in Gloucester County.
Officials announced that the site of a former chemical plant in Greenwich Township would be sold to a New York investment group with plans to transform the site into a port facility.
"This is all about re-creating, repurposing, putting people back to work," said State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), adding that he and other officials spent nine years trying to secure new life for the former DuPont Repauno site. Several of those years went into courting the purchaser, Fortress Investment Group.
Officials would not disclose the sale price for the 1,800-acre site - owned by the DuPont Co. and shuttered for more than a decade - which once thrived producing chemicals, ammunition, and explosives. About 1,500 acres are considered wetlands and undevelopable.
"The site today is a unique asset," said Joseph Adams Jr., Fortress' managing director. "We are at the beginning of a process, however, so we wouldn't want to say expectations are going to happen immediately."
Adams said the company would conduct studies and review necessary permits to make the port facility possible. He said Fortress anticipated that the port could be used for importing and exporting automobiles and warehousing.
Fortress, through subsidiaries, oversees a 351-mile freight rail system along Florida's east coast - from Jacksonville to Miami - that transports cargo to and from ports. It has also invested in a company that operates a terminal, including rail and docks, at the Port of Beaumont in Texas.
"They do this," Sweeney said during the afternoon news conference in a Gibbstown firehouse, "and they do it very well."
No tax incentives or state grants have been dedicated for the project, officials said, but they may still be considered.
While a sizable amount of work needs to occur to prepare such a port, Adams said the DuPont facility - which included a rail line and a wharf, which would need to be rebuilt - offered the basic components.
"It's just ideal," said Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli (D., Gloucester), a former Paulsboro mayor.
Greenwich Mayor George Shivery Jr. said, "It's the first day of spring and first day of Gibbstown's future."
"This is going to be quite a shot in the arm for ratables, the town," he said.
Greenwich, which includes Gibbstown, has been no stranger to loss of industry. In addition to DuPont, the Hercules Inc. chemical plant ceased operations several years ago.
"When they shut down, they tore down," Shivery said. "We lost tax ratables."
That loss compounded job losses, Shivery said. The main remaining large company is a refinery that bears the name of a neighboring town, the PBF Energy Paulsboro refinery.
"Most of the town worked for one of the three," Shivery said, hoping a new port would create jobs without compromising environmental safety.
Both the DuPont site and the Hercules facility, a Superfund site, have been the subject of environmental cleanup. Some of the DuPont remediation work - primarily addressing contamination of nitrobenzene and aniline - will continue after the sale, DuPont spokeswoman Janet Smith said.
The planned port would be just south of the planned Port of Paulsboro, a marine terminal that local officials have envisioned for years.
That port, being developed by the Gloucester County Improvement Authority and South Jersey Port Corp., broke ground in 2009, but experienced delays in construction. Last year, Holt Logistics signed an agreement to operate the port.
The Paulsboro port, which also secured a steel manufacturer as its first tenant, is scheduled to open in 2016.
Sweeney said he was confident that there was room for growth for additional port demand and that the two facilities would not compete: "We're not concerned about that at all."