The NRA’s waterfront property is not the natural topography of the land — it is largely made up of fill that had been dumped over the course of decades. In Newburyport’s early days, the natural riverbank was close to Merrimac and Water streets. The area became a major dockage and shipbuilding area, and over the course of decades many of the wharves and shallow waters were gradually filled in. Warehouses and commercial and industrial buildings were then constructed on the land. Among the industrial uses was an enormous “coal pocket” building used to store coal, and the terminus of a locomotive line. It’s unknown what sort of residue from that industrial past may linger in the soil.
NRA officials have said that a tentative vision of two structures totaling almost 70,000 square feet would cost about $20 million.
Guild said the soil testing on the West Lot would serve as part of the NRA’s effort to obtain information about the soil that could be shared with prospective developers.
In a separate discussion at the Wednesday meeting, NRA board members asked leaders of the Committee for an Open Waterfront (COW) when their “alternate” plan will be ready for discussion.
The COW group, which opposes the NRA plan to develop commercial structures, has been developing a separate proposal that calls for a park but no buildings. It would have no official standing.
Elizabeth Heath. who heads COW, said her group is fine-tuning the architectural renderings that their team has commissioned and will have its proposal ready for review in coming weeks.