In a move that local officials call vital to local economic development and the future prosperity of the area, Army authorities have formally closed their ammunition manufacturing plant at Claus and Claribel roads and handed it over to the City of Riverbank, which plans to convert it to an industrial park.

The city is taking over control of the 173-acre plant created in World War II on a no-cost lease and has signed documents with the Army and a dozen tenants of the current industrial park.

“Over the past 68 years, Riverbank Army Ammunition Plant has served the Department of Defense and our nation well. Riverbank served with great distinction,” said Col. Yolanda Dennis-Lowman of Toole Army Base in leading Wednesday’s deactivation ceremony. (See related story.)

This is the most important move in development, in drawing industry and creating jobs that Riverbank has taken in many years, Mayor Virginia Madueno has commented at meetings of the Riverbank City Council and Local Redevelopment Authority.

Moved indoors to the plant’s cafeteria due to the threat of rain on March 31, the ceremony drew close to a hundred spectators. They included city, county and state political representatives such as Mayor Madueno, Stanislaus County Supervisor Bill O’Brien and Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza in addition to many former workers at the plant.

“I worked there for 26 years and my father for 24 years,” said Roy Fife, a lifelong Riverbank resident. “I wasn’t on the production lines. I worked mainly as an environmental technician and in maintaining the water treatment plant. Norris Industries was a great boss.”

The Army targeted the Riverbank plant for closing in the Base Realignment and Closure Act of 2005. After registering initial opposition, city authorities turned to acquiring the site and using it for an industrial park specializing in environmentally-friendly, green industries.

At the deactivation event, Dennis-Lowman summarized the history of the plant and its importance to the Army, a color guard presented the colors, and the commander’s representative Robert Smith, CSM David Puig and Dennis-Lowman performed the ceremony of covering and retiring the plant’s flag.

The Army is moving its equipment and ammunition production line to Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois and will renew production there in 2012.

Some residents remain concerned that parts of the Riverbank site have groundwater and earth polluted by poisons like cyanide involved in the manufacture first of aluminum and then ammunition at the plant. But the Army several years ago installed elaborate water pumping and purification equipment, the plant was placed on the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Priority List (Superfund) and the Army has contracted to pay the full cost of cleaning the site over however many years it takes.

Source: John Branch for The Riverbank News

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