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Eagle Mill abatement, cleanup in the works to redevelop site into mixed-use project in Lee

The 46-page report recommends implementing asbestos and lead mitigation.

Lee — A May 7 draft report reflected cleanup options for the mixed-use Eagle Mill project in Lee to be located at a former industrial site on West Center Street. The report is required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pursuant to its loan to the town for the mitigation in conjunction with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission (BRPC). The report is being reviewed by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (Mass DEP) as part of the project’s environmental assessment.

Entitled “Draft Analysis of Brownfields Cleanup Alternatives,” the 46-page document discusses how the site’s hazardous building materials and contaminated soils will be managed during the property’s redevelopment. A 30-day public comment period on the draft will conclude July 30 and can be submitted to the Town of Lee Land Use Office at Town Hall, 32 Main Street, or emailed to mkropke@hearthway.org. The full report can be found here.

The property

According to the analysis prepared by TRC Environmental Corporation, the Eagle Mill project tract served as a paper-manufacturing facility from 1808 to 2008, with several additions bringing the total building size to 166,408 square feet on the 7.2-acre tract.

Map courtesy of TRC Environmental Corporation.

The site includes a 6,600-square-foot machine shop that more recently was rented to a furniture maker and then an automobile parts collector. Seven residential buildings and a vacant lot also occupied the tract that has been historically surrounded by commercial and residential developments.

Site map courtesy of TRC Environmental Corporation.

Although the property isn’t located within designated groundwater protection areas, it is situated in a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood zone and part of the National Wetland Inventory.

During the Lee Select Board’s July 2 public hearing, Berkshire Housing Corporation’s Director of Real Estate Development Matt Kropke introduced the project and provided an overview showing the projected areas for 56 residential units and an additional residential space, as well as commercial and retail spaces.

Report findings

Working with TRC as an environmental consultant, Project Manager N. Scott Buchanan said the tract has been investigated for 14 years, “with a lot of different things looked at as part of this site to make sure we understand what is there in terms of contamination.” TRC reviewed the site’s hazardous building materials, asbestos-contained materials, lead-based paint, and other regulated materials including light bulbs, ballasts, and mercury switches, he said.

With Eagle Mill’s dilapidated conditions, the use of “nontraditional” cleanup methods may be needed, Buchanan said.

According to Buchanan, the site has two overlapping areas with lead and volatile petroleum hydrocarbons. Regulations for those areas of redevelopment will be established so individuals won’t come in contact with its contaminants, he said.

The groundwater was tested at the site and found to not be at issue, so no remediation action is warranted, Buchanan said. The Housatonic River borders the site to the north and west, the report states, with no evidence of surface water contamination at the property.

However, a November 2020 sampling of the sediment along the waterway near the site showed some toxic concentrations exceeding Massachusetts regulations. That sediment will be reviewed as part of the EPA’s Housatonic Rest of River cleanup project for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) as a result of General Electric Company depositing the now-banned chemical into the waterway for decades.

“We didn’t want to have two phases of cleanup [with the Rest of River cleanup] that is going to be done on a larger scale,” Buchanan said. Additionally, no river or boat launches—public access to the Housatonic River—will be available through the property, he said.

The former machine shop has been found to contain volatile hydrocarbons, and another area near West Center Street contains lead, Buchanan said. Due to the contaminants, restrictions such as gardening will be placed on those sites, and licensed professionals will oversee any digging in the area, he said.

”So, there are things in place to make sure those contaminants stay where they are supposed to or if they are dug up and moved somewhere, not moved somewhere else on site, they are disposed of properly off site,” Buchanan said, adding that these restrictions are part of the property’s deed.

When asked by Select Board Chair Gordon Bailey as to what is keeping the lead on the site in place and not leaching into the Housatonic River, Buchanan replied the lead “is not leaching very much” and the contaminant isn’t found in the groundwater or impacting the waterway. He said that some pavement inhibits the waterway’s flow.

Remediation alternatives

As part of the project’s environmental process, Buchanan said the EPA must evaluate remediation alternatives and determine which method of cleaning up the site will be best. Given the project’s redevelopment objective as a commercial, residential, and retail site, the first alternative, to take no action, isn’t realistic to reuse the property, he said. At a cost of $4.5 million, another alternative includes building abatement, or removing the lead-based paint, demolition, and soil excavation. Buchanan said this choice “doesn’t really add any more protection to the site,” poses no more risk than the alternative chosen, and costs twice as much.

The option selected for the project entails performing the same actions as the previous choice—abating the asbestos, taking care of the lead-based paint, getting rid of the hazardous chemicals and building materials—but leaving the Activity and Use Limitations (AULs) in place. Mass DEP defines an “AUL” as a document that provides notice of the presence of oil and/or hazardous material contamination remaining at the location after a cleanup has been conducted. Limited areas will have the contaminants removed and the group will investigate whether the soil in the site’s utility corridors can be reused or if there is a danger to those needing to access the area and then replace it with clean soil, Buchanan said. The cost of the last option is approximately $2.73 million, and the report provides this alternative is “highly reliable,” relatively easy to implement, and, as with the prior remedy, of “low to moderate risk.” It will also take less time to implement than the other viable alternative.

Working with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), the disposable materials involved in the cleanup are slated to be crushed and left below a protective layer of soil instead of being put into landfills, he said, with limited off-site recycling and disposal of lead materials and contaminated soil following regulatory requirements.

Project status

Currently, all the asbestos abatement has occurred, including the roofing materials, and approved by Mass DEP, with some lead-based paint remediation ongoing in the buildings, Buchanan said. Soil excavation in the utility areas is being performed while most of the major excavation has been completed, he said.

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