Land Revitalization Winter '09 Newsletter – Where "recycled" is an understatement
Husband and wife business partners Paul and Marla Palma have transformed their belief that ‘everything has value’ into one of Virginia’s most lucrative green businesses.
Submitted by Meade Anderson, Virginia Brownfields Program Manager
It is an understatement to say that Paul Palma knows recycling.
Not only has this forward-thinking Virginian made recycling everything from car parts to cardboard to computers a successful business here in the commonwealth, but the building in which he operates his lucrative operation is also “recycled.”
Take a peek into this well-maintained facility, filled with immense amounts of carefully organized materials waiting to be recycled, and it’s hard to imagine this bustling hub of activity was once Buena Vista’s old Reeves Brother plant on Sycamore Avenue, a massive, decrepit abandoned structure that likely spooked neighborhood children.
The seven-acre property’s hey-day was at the turn of the century, when textiles ranging from cashmeres and silks were manufactured and treated. Also the location of the production of a wider range of goods starting in the 1950s and by Reeves Brothers, Inc., the facility ultimately shut its doors in the late 1980s. What was once the place to obtain high-end textiles for the upper echelons of society was now a forlorn and abandoned eyesore.
That is, until late 2007, when Paul and his wife and business partner Marla agreed to set up a recycling center for the 6500-person city of Buena Vista. Already established as highly successful businesspeople, as well as environmentally-minded professionals, the Palmas seemed the perfect pair to turn things around for this spacious, well-located property that once held so much potential.
And, despite first impressions, potential still existed. Environmental issues that so often stigmatize former industrial sites, keeping potential buyers and developers at bay, had already been addressed.
Investigations in the late 1980’s confirmed the presence of solvents that had leaked from three 10,000 gallon underground storage tanks, among some of the other common culprits of contamination so often associated with abandoned industrial sites.
State and local officials worked over the following years to install a soil-vapor extraction, or SVE system which operated into the mid-1990s. A 1996 assessment determined that SVE, coupled with natural attenuation and regular monitoring, continued to be effective in addressing contamination.
Upon visiting a number of properties in and around the area throughout 2007, the Palmas saw potential in what neighbors called the ‘old Reeves Brothers place’. They studied the property’s environmental assessments, and working with county officials to seal the deal, they bought the land and its existing structures, and immediately set to work.
Today, the newest plant for Auto Recyclers LLC (they run another car recycling plant in nearby Winchester) stands as testament to the Palmas’ creative resourcefulness, as they first concentrated on recycling the old remaining structures themselves. Almost 500,000 pounds of steel was torn down, melted, and reused for rebuilding portions of the new structure. Cinder block walls were pulverized and used to even out the site’s foundation.
Industrial garage doors once used to house industrial equipment and vehicles have been re-commissioned as seemingly modern, shiny countertops. Portions of the old factories’ indoor sprinkler pipes are now the ‘brand-new’ railings that line the stairways of Auto Recylers, LLC.
And, as if to kick off a brand-new year of sustainability, Auto Recyclers LLC opened its newest recycling center’s doors for business in January of 2008. It is an understatement to point out that business is booming.
“Everything has value,” Paul Palma points out, “and the key to unlocking that value in what we see as trash is separating it into parts.” Low grade copper, aluminum tubes, old electrical boxes, circuit boards and books are accepted, disassembled, organized, and methodically prepped for recycling either onsite or in other locations.
The Palmas’ short-term goal is to recycle 40,000 tons each year. Local officials estimate that what the Palmas’ take in and ship out for recycling from their new factory is already estimated at ten times what is currently recycled in the combined entire Rockbridge County area.
An added bonus and likely profit-maker for the Palmas has been the sheer size of their new property, allowing their expansion into other recycling markets that they did not originally plan on, including entire cars and larger goods.
It is estimated that thanks in large part to the Palmas’ Auto Recyclers LLC presence here in Buena Vista, the area’s recycling rate is expected to climb 50 percent, making it one of the highest in the state.
The Palmas’ successes at both this and their Winchester factories have not gone unnoticed, as the Virginia Chamber of Commerce recently named them one of the state’s fastest-growing companies during the prestigious annual “Fantastic 50” Awards ceremony.And so today, as larger parts are quickly dismantled into smaller recyclable parts, history seems to have come full circle as one of the circa 1890s brick walls built at the height of the 18th Century’s textiles industry can now be found still standing strong as Palmas’ main office.