Great Barrington — In what is yet another hitch for redevelopment of the contaminated former New England Log Homes site on Bridge Street, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) said the developer’s most recent remediation plan won’t cut it without significant revisions and that cleaning the site “should not be tied to redevelopment plans, which have not been finalized.”
In a Nov. 1 letter to Community Development Corporation of South Berkshire (CDCSB) Executive Director Timothy Geller, MassDEP’s Eva Tor wrote that, while the plan to remove all contaminated soil from both the Housatonic riverfront and from the area for an affordable housing development is “protective of human health and the environment,” the relocation of that soil to other parts of the site may be harmful and possibly contaminate groundwater in what is a secondary public drinking water supply for Sheffield.
The current, roughly $1 million cleanup plan, Tor wrote, would “extend contamination from a depth of two feet to eight feet.” That, she said, was unacceptable.
Tor also wrote that MassDEP would need to see a more fleshed-out plan to protect not only the residents of the new complex, but also the public and workers during the earthworks period, with a detailed schedule for staging a project that will dig up and move 100,000 cubic yards of soil contaminated with known carcinogens PCPs (pentachlorophenol) and dioxins, deposited there by the log home kit manufacturer. Proposed fencing would not be enough of a barrier, she added.
She further wrote that the “existing data” on the extent of contamination at the site and possible existing groundwater contamination is not enough, and additional sampling and well monitoring is required. If groundwater is contaminated, however, Tor said it was still possible to remediate that.
In an email to The Edge Geller wrote that this latest missive from MassDEP is part of the process of balancing public safety with progress on a toxic waste site. It is “an iterative process…that goes back many years…an exercise in collaborative problem solving.”
He reminded The Edge that the first remediation proposal and its revision were approved. “We’ll be meeting with DEP in the coming weeks to continue the conversation on this last revision,” he added.
Geller and the CDCSB have been trying for more than a decade to redevelop the 8-acre,100 Bridge site after the log homes company went belly up in the mid-1990s and CDCSB bought the land for $1 from the bank.
In 2014 CDCSB had a $40 million plan in the works that would have included an anchor retail store – like an expanded Berkshire Co-op Market – and other office, retail, housing and public green spaces and gathering areas.
Faced with a daunting and expensive site cleanup at the edge of a residential neighborhood, CDCSB in 2014 set aside the more common soil containment, or “capping,” method and began a bioremediation project that was dogged from the beginning by weather troubles and other issues that caused MassDEP to stop the process, saying it wasn’t working. Tor’s letter also says the earthmoving during that process moved soil around, and that is one reason additional testing is now needed.
Without an anchor store or commercial developer’s commitment, for financial reasons, CDCSB readjusted its plans to begin the affordable housing unit on the south end of the site next to the sewer plant. It was controversial: While the town needs more affordable housing, many felt the location between the plant and the contaminated site was unacceptable, with people living in those three housing units while the remediation took place across the rest of the site.
But in August, despite public outcry, the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) granted the CDCSB its permit, and voted down a suggestion by board member Michael Wise – who, in the end, voted against the permit – that the entire 8-acre site be cleaned up before anyone is allowed to live there.
Wise says he still feels that way.
“I don’t like the idea of doing those three buildings there in the corner and having everything else inaccessible,” Wise said Monday after learning of MassDEP’s review.
On the same day Tor’s letter was issued, a citizens’ Public Involvement Plan petition was filed with MassDEP asking the agency to force CDCSB to clean the entire site completely before the affordable housing is built.
Tor said the CDCSB has a deadline of April 18, 2018 to come up with a solution to the site.
“We’re fully committed to transforming this site into a beautiful, safe and productive asset for the community,” Geller wrote. “Reaching a final agreement with DEP on the remediation strategy is one step along the way.”