Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Plan to revive old South Jersey industrial site draws fans and fears

Outside a vast brownfield in Gibbstown that is home to crumbling roads, empty storage tanks, and vacant sheds, a modest brick sign points to both the gritty past and the greener prospects of Gloucester County's economy.

Greenwich Mayor George Shivery walks past the DuPont Repauno Plant in the township.
Greenwich Mayor George Shivery walks past the DuPont Repauno Plant in the township.Read moreMICHAEL ARES / Staff Photographer

Outside a vast brownfield in Gibbstown that is home to crumbling roads, empty storage tanks, and vacant sheds, a modest brick sign points to both the gritty past and the greener prospects of Gloucester County's economy.

Repauno Plant shout its bold, stainless steel letters. Below them, the faint outline of a pried off logo whispers a bygone name: DuPont.

Home to a DuPont Corp. factory complex that for 120 years manufactured dynamite and the chemicals for making Dacron, the Repauno site belched gas, leaked benzene, shed asbestos, occasionally exploded, and employed thousands, earning it the affectionate nickname "Uncle DuPont" before it shut down nearly 20 years ago.

Now a 300-acre section of this 1,700-acre tract on the Delaware River appears destined to become one of the largest privately owned ports in the Northeast.

On July 1, after two years of negotiations, Delaware River Partners L.L.C., a subsidiary of Fortress Investment Group L.L.C., acquired the site from a DuPont subsidiary. It will keep the Repauno name.

The project is welcomed by many, but also has aroused trepidation among residents that it will create new hazards with truck and rail traffic.

At the direction of state and federal agencies, DuPont undertook extensive pollution remediation of the tract starting in the 1980s. The company ceased operations here in 1999 but leased parts of it until 2004.

Underground pumps, monitored by the Department of Environmental Protection, still carry away for treatment benzene in the soil that otherwise would leach into groundwater.

State and local leaders are confident the new port will be a positive presence in the township and county.

"This will be a big job generator," said Senate President Stephen Sweeney, whose Third Legislative District includes Gibbstown, also known as Greenwich Township. "We've been working on this since 2005."

The Repauno port will sit just two miles south of the publicly funded Paulsboro Marine Terminal, due to open this fall. They will be the first major ports built on the Delaware River in more than 50 years.

Sweeney said he was confident the state and county would find the funds to create a connector road from the port to Route 44, I-295, and the New Jersey Turnpike that would allow most truck traffic to bypass Gibbstown's residential areas.

"It's going to happen," he said.

Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli, (D., Paulsboro), chair of the appropriations committee and a former mayor of Paulsboro, echoed Sweeney's optimism.

A similar bypass road connecting the Paulsboro terminal to the highways cost $22 million.

Like Sweeney - who as a young union ironworker found occasional work at DuPont repairing buildings after they'd exploded - many in town talk excitedly of jobs at mention of the name "Repauno."

"It was the town," said Kevin Herzberg, 33, whose tidy brick house on Lough Lane was built on land provided by "Uncle DuPont."

"My dad, my uncle, my grandfather, my grandmother, and my great-grandmother all worked there one time or another," said Herzberg, who grew up in Gibbstown.

And no matter what DRP plans to build on the property - "even a refinery," he said - "I think it's a good thing."

No refinery is contemplated, said Gary Lewis, managing director of Manhattan-based Fortress.

"The Repauno site has all the characteristics that a port developer looks for," Lewis explained in an email last week. "Deep water, rail access, highway access, and most importantly, proximity to major markets."

He said DRP expects to create:

Industrial warehouses for the importation and distribution of fruits, flowers and vegetables;

A "roll-on, roll-off" parking facility for the shipping and distribution of automobiles;

An 8 million gallon storage facility for butane, using an underground granite cavern on the property;

A solar grid capable of generating 20 megawatts of electricity.

Lewis declined to say what DRP paid for the site or what it expects to invest in improvements, but he projects 500 to 1,000 full-time jobs on-site if all the planned elements come to fruition.

The company declined a request by the Inquirer to tour the property. Google Maps' overhead images show several dozen buildings and tanks still standing, and numerous rectangles of concrete or asphalt where former buildings were demolished.

Fortress/DRP hopes this fall to start construction of a 207,000-square-foot refrigerated warehouse, with operations to begin by spring. Gibbstown's planning board gave the warehouse preliminary approval early this month.

Although a company prospectus last year envisioned a liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility at Repauno - disconcerting some residents and environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the Delaware Riverkeeper - "that is no longer in our designs," Lewis said.

Just how safe and "green" the Repauno site will be under DRP's stewardship remains a matter of concern for some, however.

"This is Railroad Avenue," said 44-year-old Rich Friendlich, who had walked the half block from his home on Logan Avenue to twin railroad tracks running at right angles to his street.

Just beyond lay the open field where DRP wants to build the first of two or more refrigerated warehouses.

"The trains already come through here every 30 to 90 minutes," he said, moments after a lone Norfolk Southern locomotive chugged slowly by. "How many more will there be when they start operations?" he asked.

He and his wife, Karen Capozzi, said they are glad DRP has dropped plans for an LNG port, but butane storage worries them.

Rail carriers already park tank cars close by their home, Capozzi said. "They sit for days, and you can smell this awful chlorine smell."

"And we still haven't heard," Friendlich said, "how they plan to transport the butane."

The couple created the organization Concerned Citizens for the Development of the Repauno site. Its website is

Their neighbor Emily Buchenhorst, 46, said her biggest worry is the trucks that will soon be traveling in and out of the port. They will be passing and turning less than 10 feet from her home on Repauno Avenue. "They could hit my house," said Buchenhorst, a resident for 13 years.

Mary Rogers, 61, a 37-year resident of Repauno Avenue, said she fears for the children who play and ride bicycles on her street, and worries that rumbling trucks could disturb the foundations of older homes.

And Suzanne DeRemigio, 60, who has lived 36 years on Logan Avenue, voiced fears that if there are frequent rail accidents in Gibbstown, such as the 2012 Conrail chemical spill in neighboring Paulsboro, "we wouldn't be able to sell our houses."

Greenwich Township Mayor George Shivery was emphatic, however, that he, the township council, and planning board will not allow any new industries to pose the kinds of hazards that DuPont - which manufactured the dynamite used to build the Panama Canal - inflicted.

"We grew up when all this manufacturing was in full bloom," Shivery, 69, recalled. "The acid fumes would put spots on your aluminum siding, and the cancer rate, the asbestosis, was just unbelievable. We all had parents and great-grandparents whose lives were shortened by it.

"We just didn't know about those problems then. Now we do. We're very sensitive to these issues," Shivery said.

"We won't want anything out there that goes 'Boom!' "