Environmental studies further Sibley Mill purchase plan

Canal Authority says few issues not surprising
File/Staff
Closing on the textile mill, its hydropower plant, outbuildings and 20 acres is set for Aug. 31. The purchase price is $800,000.

The Augusta Canal Authority's 120-day window to conduct environmental studies as part of its planned purchase of Sibley Mill expires today-- and so far, the results are promising.

"Nothing we have found thus far gives us any reason not to go forward," said Dayton Sherrouse, the authority's executive director.

The authority agreed in February to buy the 518,000-square-foot textile mill -- along with its hydropower plant, outbuildings and 20 acres -- for $800,000. Closing is scheduled for Aug. 31.

Under the terms of the sale, the owner -- Avondale Mills -- gave the authority 120 days to determine whether there were any structural or contamination issues that had not been identified in previous assessments conducted by the owners and later by Augusta businessman Clay Boardman, who at one time planned to buy the site.

"We have supplemented those two studies with additional work to make sure we get a full assessment of the site," Sherrouse said. The newest round of studies cost about $100,000.

The primary issues identified in all three studies were typical of large, old industrial buildings, he said.

"It was mainly lead paint and asbestos inside the building and some lead and mercury and cadmium in soil, for which there would be some remediation to be required," he said.

The inspections are awaiting approval from Avondale, after which the reports would be filed with the state of Georgia as part of the Canal Authority's Brownfields application.

Under a Brownfields designation, the state would approve any needed corrective action plans for the site. Approval of such a plan, Sherrouse said, would enable the site to qualify for grants.

The initial goal is to acquire and preserve the historic building. Eventual plans include marketing the site for redevelopment.

Possible uses could include a blend of residential, professional and commercial -- similar to the nearby Enterprise Mill, which was successfully renovated a decade ago.

The canal authority has not begun marketing efforts.

"We've had some interest," Sherrouse said. "But none of that can be pursued until ownership is completed."

In 2001, the canal authority purchased Sibley's next-door neighbor, King Mill, for $250,000. The authority then leased the building to a new operator, Ohio-based Standard Textile, which has kept it open as an active manufacturer and employer.

About the mill

- Sibley Mill's namesake, Josiah Sibley, was an Augusta cotton broker whose son William was a partner in the venture. In 1870, they traveled to New York to recruit investors for their milling company.

- The Sibleys bought 550,000 bricks that remained after the demolition of the Confederate Powderworks, which was erected there during the Civil War, for $5 per thousand. The Powderworks Monument is a preserved remnant.

- William Sibley's daughter, Pearl Sibley, laid the first cornerstone during a ceremony Oct. 13, 1880. She also laid the last brick Jan. 27, 1882.

- Construction cost $788,452.

- Sibley Mill opened in 1882 with 536 looms and expanded to 880 looms by 1885.

- The mill closed in 2006.

-- From staff reports