Swift cleanup

The cleanup of the old Swift buildings in Ogden is expected to be done by the end of August, officials say. This July 10, 2019, shows helmets from when the site was used as a storage area for military surplus goods. An array of chemicals, some of them dangerous, have been found elsewhere.

OGDEN — Cleanup efforts at the old Swift complex are winding down with most of the waste found at the site accounted for and awaiting disposal.

"Tail-end of the operation now," said Paul Peronard of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the on-scene coordinator of the cleanup.

The material that hasn't yet been processed or disposed of, he said, should be soon, when transport times and dates can be arranged. "It's just a matter of scheduling and getting it off site," Peronard said.

The EPA, invited by the city of Ogden, launched the cleanup of the Swift complex, actually two adjoining buildings, on March 29. The city acquired the property in 2017 from an entity connected to local retailer Smith and Edwards Co., planning to tear it down so the west Ogden site, just north of the 24th Street viaduct on the bank of the Weber River, could be redeveloped.

Officials knew cleaning the building would be a big job, but the extent of the issues and the range of warehoused materials inside — potential explosives, flammable and corrosive substances and more — didn't come into clear focus until the work began. The EPA website detailing the effort showed Friday that 89,555 containers of waste, big and small, had been counted, all of them disposed of or treated and awaiting disposal. All of the rooms in the two Swift structures have been cleared, though some were too unstable to enter, requiring use of a U.S. Coast Guard robot to inspect them.

Around 10,000 more containers have yet to be processed, according to the EPA, but Peronard said he still expects to finish the task by the end of August. The most recent efforts haven't yielded anything too extraordinary, aside from the discovery of solid rocket propellant, used to launch 1950s-era grenades and anti-tank explosives. "Kind of an exciting afternoon," Peronard said.

Before the city acquired it, the Swift complex had been owned by Utah-Smith, affiliated with the late Bert Smith, the Smith and Edwards Co. founder. Smith and Edwards gained fame as a retailer of military surplus items and EPA officials think much of the chemicals and waste inside the Swift buildings came from the U.S. Department of Defense, sold along with other surplus items.

With cleanup coming to an end, Mark Johnson, chief administrative officer for Ogden, said demolition of the structures could come within 30-45 days, by the end of September. After the rubble is removed, he said, the ground will be tested for any spilled chemicals. The soil elsewhere on the site has already been tested, he said, and he doesn't think any issues have emerged.

Likewise, Johnson said he's "reasonably sure" nothing from the site has spilled into the adjacent Weber River.

The city acquired the Swift complex from Utah-Smith for $400,000, realizing it would cost perhaps $1.7 million to clean and $500,000 to demolish the structures. That's spurred criticism from some that the city took on too big of a financial burden, though the city says it felt compelled to take action to clean the site and head-off larger potential problems.

For now, the EPA is covering cleanup costs, though the agency will later try to determine who has liability for covering the cost.

The Swift property is part of the city's Trackline Economic Development area, a redevelopment zone stretching further west across the Weber River to Ogden Business Exchange, a planned industrial zone. Johnson envisions a manufacturing facility one day at the Swift location and says the property is already generating interest from at least one would-be buyer.

"It's a great location, right by the river," Johnson said.

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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