In a major win for the town, Robbins will receive $400,000 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in grants to clean up the site of the former Robbins Mill, which burned to the ground in 2008.

The mill, just outside of downtown, has sat virtually untouched since that time because the town had little money for the cost and its ownership has been mired in legal disputes. The town finally bought the land in 2014, fenced it off and slowly began developing a strategy for cleanup.

“This has been a long time coming,” Robbins Mayor Lonnie English said.

The grant was submitted six months ago, but the town has been working on securing the grant for three years. English, who says he does not have a lot of experience writing grants, enlisted the help of Clare Ruggles from the Northern Moore Family Resource Center and Gary Ridzon to help write the grant for the mill site.

“This grant is a blessing to me,” English said. “We started the first move towards getting the mill cleaned up when we bought the land for $20,000.”

Cleanup has long been viewed as a key development toward turning around the long-flagging fortunes for Robbins, once one of Moore's most prosperous communities. It has been a high priority for the town and English.

The newest help from the EPA comes in the form of two $200,000 grants for cleanup. In October 2013, Robbins received a $400,000 “Brownfield” federal grant to assess areas around town — including the mill site — for environmental situations that would prevent development.

The grant could also be used for “abandoned, idle or under-used industrial and commercial facilities where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination.”

During the assessment period, a contractor hired by the town found asbestos in the remains of the mill.

“We were able to get the clean up grants because of the asbestos at the mill,” English said.

During the time in which English was waiting to hear back about the grants, the town was able to move non-asbestos bricks from the mill site, with the EPA’s approval.

Once the asbestos bricks are removed with the new money from the grant, English said that 75 percent of the site will be completely cleaned, leaving 25 percent of the mill site. The town will then put in for one last grant to clean the 25 percent up, which will take another year and a half, English estimated.

“If we hadn’t bought the mill, this property might have never been cleaned up,” English said. “In order to clean up our town, we have to take charge.”

All around the country, former so-called “brown fields” have been cleaned up and redeveloped into new businesses, parks and other uses. Initial assessments help property owners find buyers, or persuade them to donate property to towns, who can then qualify for cleanup grants.

“It is very important for the community to come together to make things better,” English said. “This clean up is the first process in doing this.”

The idea to clean up and revitalize the mill property and other areas of town has sparked the creation of the Robbins Civic Organization and a draft economic development plan for the town.

The draft economic development plan calls for developing strategies that align with the town’s vision of reclaiming lost manufacturing jobs, with a renewed emphasis on the arts, entertainment, recreation and tourism “as key economic drivers.”

At community meetings in the past, English said that there have been focus groups to decide on the best use of the land. Some of these ideas have included getting a business to move to the site, building single-family housing and town homes, or building recreational fields and a community center. However, it will be a couple of years before a final plan is made for land.

While the mill remains in ruins, the old smokestack at the mill still stands on the property. The smokestack has been a hot issue at town meetings because it is the last remaining piece of the mill, for which the town of Robbins was named in 1943.

The smokestack, however, presented itself as a liability due to its leaning and unstable nature. In February, Town Commissioners agreed to tear down the smokestack to a safe and suitable height and erect a memorial in its place.

“This mill has been a symbol of the condition of Robbins,” Town Commissioner, David Lambert said. “For the longest time we have been without funds or money to clean it up and get out of this.

“This is symbolic of the renewed sense of hope that the town of Robbins has.”

English said the first order of business after receiving both grants will be to bring in an asbestos-certified contractor next week and develop and plan the steps needed to take in cleaning each parcel, which will then be sent to the EPA for approval.

The town will be managing the clean-up process through every step and English estimates that it will take a year for the clean up to be completed.

Despite the victory that Robbins has received from getting the grants, Lambert believes that there is so much more to do.

“Money like this does not come often to Robbins,” Lambert said. “We need to celebrate but we also need to roll up our sleeves and get to work on the other issues the town of Robbins faces.

“Cleaning up the mill site is just the tip of the iceberg.”

 

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(3) comments

Trenton Bridford

Sherwood Park, we all know that nothing would have laid around since 2008, in Pinehurst. I wouldn't give it 8 days, and we Moore County tax payers would be footing the bill to have it cleaned up! It would be a total disgrace for the crowing jewel community of our great county to appear tarnished!! Anything North of the traffic circle is considered a disgrace!

David Lambert

Fantastic News! I am so happy that the Feds don't use the NC Tier System. Under the Brownfields grant, we didn't have the same obstacles we face on the State level! I hope we can use this for momentum in getting true reform and change.

...there's a lot of trash in moore county that needs to be cleaned.out and disposed of, mines.well start in robbins (or pinehurst)...

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