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DuPont Corp. gives 'donut hole' in forest to state

The North Carolina Council of State on Tuesday voted to accept the 476-acre site of the old Dupont X-ray film plant as a gift from the DuPont Corp., completing acquisition of the so-called donut hole at DuPont State Forest and clearing the way for its development as an emergency services training center.

"Going forward, I will continue to work with key stakeholders and with my successors in the General Assembly to ensure the Donut Hole remains on track to fulfill the vital functions of emergency response training, jobs and economic stimulus, and public use and enjoyment for the benefit of all," state Rep. Chris Whitmire in announcing the acquisition.

Once the home of the world’s largest medical x-ray film production plant, the land contains 57 acres of concrete slab where large buildings once stood; parking that once served 1,500 employees, a recreation area and other assets "ideally suited for functional and recreational use," Whitmire said.

"For many years, those familiar with the DuPont State Recreational Forest had pondered uses for the DuPont Corporation’s dormant former industrial site, but no one or no agency could design a means to facilitate the transfer," Whitmire said. "The DuPont Corporation and the state were both interested, but the expense and 'red tape' to do so was seemingly insurmountable until my concept of functional use made its way to key facilitators—the Governor, the Secretary of Commerce, the Secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality (at the time known as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources), The Adjutant General of the North Carolina National Guard within the Department of Public Safety, and the Commissioner of Agriculture."

State Rep. Chuck McGrady, who has been following the negotiations for the land donation in his role as a state budget writer and a specialist in the House leadership on envirommental regulation, said the Council of State action means that all sides are satisfied with the path forward on site cleanup.

“What’s envisioned is that DuPont and the state, its regulatory side, apparently have got an agreement now that will resolve all the outstanding environmental issues and once the environmental issues are resolved we’re looking at a donation of the site to the state,” he said.

There has been much work behind the scenes on a complicated and multi-party negotiation involving federal and state environmental agencies, the Legislature, the governor’s office and multiple state agencies and DuPont, which is currently in the midst of a merger with Dow Chemical. There was a sense among all parties, McGrady added, that the stars were aligned for a deal now and that the window of opportunity could close as the chemical company merger approached or if the governor loses his re-election bid.

“This is about as public as you get when the Council of State takes action,” he said.

Eventually, the old industrial site will be used by the National Guard and Forest Service, and guardsmen and rangers will use the forest and its waterfalls for rescue training.

“The co-location of a National Guard and Forest Service headquarters and training facility is part of it,” McGrady said. “It’s not the next step, though. The next step is to get the cleanup pieces behind us.”