By Mac Cerullo
---- — AMESBURY — Hoping to jump-start the Lower Millyard cleanup effort, city officials have applied for two state grants to fill the funding gap left behind when the city failed to secure the Environmental Protection Agency’s annual grant.
Last Friday, Community and Economic Development Director Joe Fahey submitted an application for the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission’s brownfield cleanup grant. The grant could net the city up to $300,000 to put toward the cleanup effort, and Fahey said the MVPC usually has a pretty quick turnaround, so the city could hear back within four to six weeks.
The city has also put in an application for a brownfield cleanup grant from Mass Development, which could potentially bring in up to $575,000, Fahey said. Mass Development is currently waiting to be re-capitalized by the state, so Fahey doesn’t expect any funds to be awarded to anyone until the state moves to allocate new funds to the program.
These grant applications represent a “Plan B” of sorts for Mayor Thatcher Kezer, who originally hoped to fund the brownfield cleanup portion of the Lower Millyard project entirely through the $400,000 EPA grant. When those funds didn’t materialize, the city began identifying viable alternatives.
“What we’re doing is we’re applying for a number of different grants,” Kezer said. “They’re smaller than the EPA grant, but we’re piecing together the dollars to fill to get the brownfield going.”
The hope is that funds for the cleanup can be secured in a timely manner so the project’s overall construction schedule isn’t delayed. Specifically, the project needs to be completed by June 30, 2014, for the city to be able to take full advantage of the $400,000 Parklands Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities grant, which means time is of the essence.
The cleanup project is only one aspect of a much larger and more complicated effort. Overall, the Lower Millyard revitalization project aims to convert the underutilized industrial section of the downtown area into the new Heritage Park, and the completed project will also allow nearby business owners the ability to build lucrative expansions to their properties.
One such business owner is Dan Healey, who has agreed to donate to the city a parcel of land adjacent to his Carriage Mills property on Water Street so it can become a part of Heritage Park. The problem is that the donation is contingent on the city cleaning up the industrial contamination on the site, and the City Council made accepting the land contingent on no municipal funds being used to do so.
This puts Fahey in an awkward position where he can’t accept the land without the cleanup funds, but he can’t use the funds he already has until he has the land, and the longer it takes to secure the cleanup funds, the less time the city will have to get the project done.
Even if only a portion of the necessary funds can be secured, Fahey said the city could potentially work around that by removing only the soil closer to the surface on areas that will eventually be paved over as parking lots and pathways, as opposed to going down three feet and taking all of it.
Fahey said the city would still have to completely scour all of the contaminated soil on heavily utilized recreational areas of the park, along with places where utilities, drainage conduits and trees will go, but by reducing the amount of soil that needs to be taken away to a special disposal unit, the city could save tens of thousands of dollars and get the project done on a leaner budget.