ATHENS (KYTX) - Hazardous materials have now been removed from the Athens fertilizer plant that caught fire two and a half months ago, and city leaders say materials like them will not be allowed in the city limits again.
Since Union Pacific owns the land, crews had to wait until they got permission from the company to take that hazardous material to a landfill in Jacksonville that can accommodate chemicals. That all happened last week and now crews are starting to demolish what's left on the land, and level it.
To many, it seems like yesterday that the fertilizer storage facility began spewing flames with 70 tons of ammonium nitrate inside. Three months later, the community is relieved to know the harmful chemicals that threatened their lives have been taken far away.
Athens Fire Chief John McQueary says excavation tools are now clearing away any debris, and memory of what happened in late May. He says it's a memory his city will never have to relive.
"They city right now is working on a new ordinance, which will be a zoning ordinance, and part of that will be including high hazards," McQueary says. "Through West and through our incident, we've learned that any facility that has a danger to the community needs to be taken away from the community at large."
McQueary says that was a unanimous decision. That means any future renovations or new buildings within city limits will not be allowed to house any hazardous materials.
"So a building of that nature now would have to have a totally different construction, built of concrete, it would have sprinkler systems, probably a monitoring system, those bins everyone talked about, the wooden bins, those would no longer be allowed," McQueary says.
The one red flag is a grandfather clause that limits what changes can be made to other old buildings that already store hazardous materials.
"We have a large storage of diesel products for the farmers, and it's in the community. We have ethylene oxide that's out there in the industrial district, but if something happened that would be pretty devastating," McQueary says.
Most of these facilities are already 7 or 8 miles outside Athens city limits, but when the ordinance is passed, all buildings will still be investigated. If buildings in Athens are deemed hazardous or unsafe, the city can consider passing another ordinance to remove the grandfather clause protecting them.
It's supposed to take about another week for these crews to clear the ground and once that's done, the soil can be tested to see if any hazardous chemicals have been left behind.
We don't know yet what is going to happen to the land. Union Pacific can lease it back out to the former owner, or choose not to. No decision has been made yet.