Constructed in early 1942, the Buckeye Ordnance Works Plant was built to make hydrogen ammonia for military explosives. As a result the city of South Point, Ohio and nearby Ironton were placed in the Industrial Defense Zone. Operations began in 1943 and after the end of World War II, Allied Chemical Corporation bought the plant in 1946 converting it to producing chemical fertilizer. The plant continued as a major employer for the region until a drastic cutback in 1968 reduced the 1,300+ employee complex to just a 200 person operation producing various chemicals such as ammonia, nitrogen fertilizer, and formaldehyde until 1978.
In 1979 the abandoned plant was sold to Ashland Oil Inc. who began demolition of the majority of the existing structures. Through a partnership with other corporations, they developed an ethanol processing plant that made alcohol from corn to be used as a gasoline additive under the corporate name South Point Ethanol and continued operations until 1995. In 2000, Biomass Energy LLC acquired the South Point site with the plan for an operation of burning wood waste to generate electricity. It all seemed promising but was immediately shut down as soon as it opened due to numerous EPA violations. In December 2002, the U.S. Department of Agriculture agreed to pay Biomass $2.33 million to destroy 121,000 tons of surplus tobacco. During the spring of 2003, more than 10,000 tons of tobacco in cardboard boxes were shipped to the South Point location. South Point Mayor Bill Gaskin at the time commented that he didn’t think the plant even had a working furnace and they were just storing the tobacco in a large building and even had piles just out in a field. The Ohio EPA inspected the site in March of 2003 and alongside the tobacco piles, discovered 35,000 tons of coal and coke waste.
Over the years that followed several citations and lawsuits have been filed concerning the improper on site storage of tobacco, coal, and coke waste. Along with blatant disregard for environmental laws, South Point Biomass has had a rocky road with paying property taxes on the 80 acre plot. At one time the company owed more than $100,000 in back taxes, which was only paid when the county put public pressure on the company and it’s CEO Mark Harris.
During the past few years parts of the plant have had the demolition process started and then halted immediately due to yet even more EPA violations, this time concerning the proper removal of asbestos. Citations were issued by the Portsmouth Local Air Agency, which oversees air quality issues on behalf of the Ohio EPA. The complaint alleges that in October 2013, buildings at the now long abandoned ethanol plant had contained asbestos, and the owners, without notifying the Ohio EPA as required by law, improperly handled and disposed of it while demolishing some of the equipment. As of September 2015, South Point Biomass has yet to fulfill court ordered obligations regarding proper clean up of the site and currently owes $16,000 in back taxes to Lawrence County.
The photos below were taken between 2013 and 2015.