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City purchases old Arizona Chemical property

The City of Picayune and International Paper Co. signed a purchase agreement Friday and Mayor Greg Mitchell ceremoniously handed Bob Lawrence of Arizona Chemical, a subsidiary of IP, a check for $700,000 and the 234 acres and several buildings, including the office building fronting on Beech Street, that comprised the old Arizona Chemical property officially became the property of the City of Picayune.

The actual transfer of funds for the property purchase was done electronically.

The city and Arizona Chemical have been in negotiations concerning the property since about the time of Hurricane Katrina, which struck on Aug. 29, 2005. For several months the old Arizona Chemical Co. office building has been being used by the city as a new City Hall under a lease from Arizona Chemical that was signed shortly after the passage of the hurricane.

“It’s a good fit for this city. We realized even before Hurricane Katrina that we were running out of room” in the old City Hall, said Mayor Mitchell.

He said the city will maintain the old City Hall, which he described as an historic building, and develop offices in it.

Lawrence, who was manager of Arizona Chemical in Picayune prior to the plant’s closing about two years ago, said he especially was happy to see the old facility become the property of the City of Picayune, given its history and the history of the family that built the chemical plant in the 1930s with the city. The plant opened as Crosby Chemical and remained Crosby Chemical until Arizona Chemical bought the facility in the 1980s.

The Crosby family and their timber interests had been integral to the development of the City of Picayune up until the mid-1980s when the plant was sold. Several facilities around the cityattest to the famly’s involvement in and support of the city, including Crosby Memorial Library, Crosby Arboretum and Highland Community Hospital, which was known as Crosby Memorial Hospital prior to its sale recently to Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg.

“It’s personally gratifying to me,” said Lawrence, who came to the plant for the last couple of years of its operation in Picayune. “We (Arizona Chemical) certainly appreciate the support from the city and surrounding communities.

“I can’t think of a more appropriate ending to the Arizona Chemical part of this facility than turning it over to the city. … I know (Mitchell and Chief of Operations for the city Glade Woods) see a lot of potential for this facility,” he said.

Phil Bass, recently retired from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and now a part time resident of Picayune, said he and his former agency are especially happy that Picayune has decided to give the old property a new life.

“One of the mistakes we made in starting the environmental programs (in this country) is that we’ve made people so afraid to taking a risk (on for industrial plants). … For ya’ll to take a chance on this … It’s exciting for us … I think this is just a win-win situation for everybody,” Bass said.

He said that he hopes that other cities and private interests will follow the example of Picayune with its purchase of the plant and not just go out and “mess up new dirt” when they think of developing a new facility.

Prior to Bass’ remarks, Willie McCutcheon of DEQ said that his agency has found no problems with the property.

“We did not find anything at this time to cause concern and we will continue to be involved with the city (concerning the property),” McCutcheon said.

He noted that the City of Picayune and Arizona Chemical had come to DEQ at the outset of their discussions to determine the viability of the property and that both the city and Arizona Chemical have been completely cooperative in DEQ’s examination and assessment of the former chemical plant.

As a chemical plant, both during its ownership by the Crosbys and during its ownership by International Paper Co. operating as Arizona Chemical, the plant had been involved in the extraction of resins and related chemicals from pine stumps originally and later from a waste from paper companies called “soap” that is leftover from the paper-making process, Lawrence said prior to the formal remarks and contract and check exchanges.

At the end of the formalities, Mitchell said, “The property has now been transferred to the City of Picayune and our next obligation is to get it paid for. We have all planned and mapped out how we’re going to pay for it.”

The mayor called the property purchase “the proudest moment of my life. … This is something that can be used for a long time for this city.”