The vision for the Riverbank Industrial Complex (RIC) is starting to see some light once again as there has been some progress made with the Army and EPA with support from Congressman Josh Harder in collaboration with the City of Riverbank and Mayor Richard O’Brien leading the way. A tour was held last week of a new company that has taken up residence at the RIC called Circulus.
“This site has incredible opportunities,” stated Harder regarding the RIC. “There is a lot of unique things about this site. It is already prebuilt for manufacturing opportunity. It already gets 100 percent renewable energy from the Hetch Hetchy Dam. It is really unique for a lot of green energy companies that want to be building on top of that.”
“We have a lot of creative industries already here, oil recycling and plastic recycling,” said Mayor O’Brien. “What we want to do is continue this theme. These are higher tech, higher paying and more advanced industries which we can capitalize on. This area here has regional significance; it is not just local.”
Circulus is a company that recycles plastic and is part of the Plastic Resin and Synthetic Fiber Manufacturing Industry. They have an elaborate operation with 27 million dollars in equipment at the RIC. The lease was signed a year ago but due to the delays from the Army and EPA, the City was unable to move forward with Circulus until now.
General Manager John Villareal took Congressman Harder and Mayor O’Brien on a tour of their facility. They will employ about 50 workers to begin operations but will increase that as shifts expand.
“These are all companies that are going to create hundreds and thousands of jobs in this industrial complex,” added Harder. “The challenge has been frankly the bureaucracy getting the EPA and the Army to move forward quickly enough to create urgency and transparency to the process. It should have been completed years ago. It wasn’t. It hasn’t been. We have been able to expedite that process a little bit. We have been able to get the EPA to finally give some approvals.”
The RIC was formerly known as the Riverbank Army Ammunition Plant (RAAP) located at 5300 Claus Road that began operation in the 1940s. In 2005 the RAAP was placed on the BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) list.
“The City at first, did not want the Base closed and tried to make a case for it to remain open,” added O’Brien. “The City has been working on the transfer process since 2008. It became in earnest in 2014 with the Specific Plan and EIR (Environmental Impact Report). We believed it would have transferred in 2019. It did not, so I went to DC to speak with Deputy Secretary Cramer. Some promises were made and the FOSET (Finding Of Suitability for Early Transfer) was released. The final FOSET is now going to the new Deputy Secretary in April and possibly to Governor Newsom shortly after.”
City Manager Sean Scully noted that city has focused on the necessary environmental cleanup of the property. He said the FOSET is essentially the process where the Army can convey the property to the City prior to the completion of the environmental cleanup.
In 2017 there was a Deed Signing Ceremony held at the RIC transferring some of the parcels over to the city. The complete transfer of the former military site has been in the works for several years.
With the thought that the transfer would be complete in 2019 the city found a master developer Aemetis that, according to O’Brien, will bring significant industry and investment to the Claus Road complex.
He said, “They will initially invest $250 million and possibly a total of $750 million. Not only will they invest directly, but they are also bringing other industries with them.”
There are several jobs that have been created with the businesses currently at the RIC with the potential of many more with Aemetis. However the process has been delayed by the EPA and the Army and that is what Harder and O’Brien are trying to make progress on.
“The problem is the Army and EPA are two of the slowest moving bureaucracies in the federal government; they want to make sure every I is dotted and every T is crossed and that is understandable,” explained Harder. “But now it has been years delayed and that is millions of dollars for companies that have had this manufacturing capacity just sitting there. We are trying to light a fire under those companies, under those bureaucracies, under the EPA and we have seen some progress over the last couple weeks and we are going to keep pushing them until we get what we need.”
There is a possibility that the complete transfer could occur in 2022 and according to O’Brien that is way too long.
Currently there are about 27 to 30 businesses at the plant including companies like Circulus, Repsco, NX Stage, Green Eyes, and Integrated Rail. The current lease with the Army will expire in March and another five-year lease will be renewed.
“Others have business parks, this is an industrial park,” remarked O’Brien. “There is a big difference. Here we want to build things, we want to construct things. We want to put the skill back into the workers and get us more technically advanced than we have been in the past. We shift a lot of our industrial might away and we want to bring it right here. This is an opportunity to have an industrial complex.”