DuPont’s presence in Waynesboro from 1929 to 1950 made the River City a thriving industrial area.
However, at the same time, activities at the plant were putting mercury into the river from which Waynesboro got its moniker. And the South River’s aquatic life stopped thriving.
Most of the mercury affected the first five miles of the river from the former plant, and a remediation project began in 2011 to remove mercury from the first two miles.
“Getting fish to the level where they can be consumed is the ultimate goal,” said Corteva Principal Project Director Michael Liberati. “That’s going to take a long time before we see.” DuPont became a subsidiary of Corteva Agriscience on June 1.
According to Liberati, a bank across from Constitution Park was the pilot bank of the project the first year to test the concept of whether mercury remediation would improve aquatic life in the river. The pilot bank was the first of six river banks where mercury remediation was done. The bank behind Shiloh Baptist is the fifth in the project.
After some monitoring, remediation began on river bank in Constitution Park in 2016. Then at City Shop, the bank across from Allied Ready Mix on Delphine Avenue, and now behind Shiloh Baptist.
The sixth bank in the project will be in North Park, and DuPont hopes to complete remediation of that river bank, and phase 1 of the project, by the end of 2020.
Liberati said that the mercury levels were not high enough to harm human health, but humans could not safely consume fish from the river.
DuPont hopes to see an improvement in crayfish and insects in the river, which the fish feed on, then “hopefully, we’re going to see improvement in the upper levels” of the river’s food chain.
“We’re actually, even though it’s very, very early, we’re encouraged from our monitoring results,” Liberati said.
The City of Waynesboro’s Public Works Department has provided technical advice throughout the project, according to Trafford McRae, programs and budget manager. Public Works has reviewed construction plans to ensure they follow the city’s stormwater management and erosion plan, but also to ensure that the remediation project would not negatively impact any of the city’s assets.
“The [phases of the project] have all gone very smoothly from that standpoint,” said McRae. And he expects the project will continue to go smoothly.
DuPont has softened its approach with the project due to Public Works advice in order to “restore ecological value” to the South River, and arranged field trips for high school students to learn about the environmental concept of the role construction and science are playing in the remediation project of the South River.
“DuPont has been really good to work with. They’ve been really positive in adhering to the regulations for construction [through several phases of the project],” McRae said.
Public Works has also advised on the project when it came to legal agreements DuPont should be aware of, and continuing to provide feedback.
“This river system was unusual. Most rivers that have been impacted by heavy metals like mercury would improve through natural attenuation,” Liberati said. “That the heavy metals would be bound to the soils and not released, or they would be diluted flushed down river.”
But, after 30 years, the South River’s aquatic life continued not to be safe for humans to eat.
DuPont determined after 10 years of investigation that somehow mercury was still being loaded into the river, but not from the former plant’s site. Mercury remained in the soil along the river’s banks in Waynesboro and was slowly eroding into the river causing recontamination.
Remediation behind Shiloh Baptist began in April.
“This Shiloh project has been our most challenging one,” Liberati, who leads similar projects across the United States, said.
He said he calls the Shiloh part of the project “a win-win-win project.” DuPont wins by completing its remediation project. The city wins by gaining a continuation of the Greenway. And the church wins because DuPont calculated that in another 10 years erosion of the river bank behind the church would comprise the rear wall of the church.
“So essentially, the church could possibly be crumbling into the river,” Liberati said. The church owns the river bank behind the church and gave DuPont easement to remediate the river bank and takes steps to slow erosion.
After the city obtains easements from residents who own property along the river bank, the construction roads built by DuPont for the remediation project will become parts of the city’s Greenway all the way to North Park.
“It’s wonderful. This Greenway has been the epitome of the project, I think. It’s a wonderful thing what the city is doing,” Liberati said.
Handrails will be installed behind the church for safety along the bank. In the fall, Liberati said that trees and shrubbery will be planted along the South River bank behind Shiloh Baptist to further prevent erosion.
Liberati said that the South River project has also been different than other projects he has lead, because of the community involvement. After remediation is complete, an area across from Shiloh Baptist that DuPont has used to store equipment will become a parking lot of up to 18 spots for the church’s parishioners.
The project is also adding to the city’s water trail. After remediation of the river’s bank in North Park, DuPont plans to build a kayak and canoe launch.
Phase II of remediation will begin in a couple years, Liberati said, as the project moves into Augusta County. But, first, DuPont will take a step back to monitor the work all ready completed in Waynesboro.
Liberati said a fish advisory remains in place all the way to Front Royal, and DuPont will continue remediation all the way to Front Royal if results from phase I determine that necessary.
“Remediation has an impact on habitat,” Liberati said. “We want to make sure it’s going to be worthwhile.”