By Mac Cerullo
---- — AMESBURY — The Lower Millyard redevelopment effort got a huge boost yesterday after the state announced that Amesbury would be among five communities designated to receive assistance through the Brownfields Support Team initiative.
The initiative aims to spur cleanup of the state’s most challenging and contaminated sites and prepare them for economic and community redevelopment. Since its inception in 2008, the Brownfields Support Team has worked with communities to identify and clean up complex sites that could be valuable if redeveloped.
Lt. Gov. Tim Murray yesterday described Amesbury’s Lower Millyard as a prime example of a difficult project that could bring huge benefits for the local community if properly addressed.
“It’s a sizeable site; you have 40 acres and a desirable community in a region that has a lot of momentum, so the size of the site is unique, and it’s always a challenging site given some of the past use there,” Murray said. “We think this is a prime site for the BST concept.”
Local officials praised the state’s decision, saying the assistance will go a long way toward making a redeveloped Lower Millyard a reality in Amesbury, which has been a longtime goal of officials.
“We are excited about the ongoing partnership we have with the Patrick-Murray administration to continue the revitalization of the Lower Millyard in downtown Amesbury,” Mayor Thatcher Kezer said. “With the support of the Brownfields Support Team, we will transform the Lower Millyard into an economic engine for the future of Amesbury.”
Brownfields are abandoned or underused commercial/industrial facilities that are available for re-use but present a challenge to redevelopers due to the pollution left behind by the previous occupant.
The Lower Millyard is included in what is the BST’s third round of projects. In addition to Amesbury, sites in Hyde Park in Boston, Ludlow, Fitchburg and New Bedford were chosen for assistance. In each case, the selected sites will require a certain degree of environmental cleanup.
In the case of the Lower Millyard, the site has residual fuel oil, heavy metals, chemical pollution and volatile organic compounds in the soil that will need to be dealt with. The BST will also address some ownership issues pertaining to the site.
Due to the contamination in the soil, the process of redeveloping a Brownfield site is often complex and requires input from state, local and federal officials from a wide variety of departments.
Communities with a Brownfield site are assigned a specific staff member from each agency, who communicates regularly with local officials to collectively work through all the issues that need to be addressed.
Over the past few years, the BST has coordinated 24 different agencies to tackle some of the state’s most complicated Brownfields. Among the agencies that will work toward cleaning up the Lower Millyard are the Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Transportation, Department of Energy Resources and the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.
“You have specific individuals who are held accountable,” Murray said. “By having all these stakeholders at the table developing a plan, we’ve then been able to go out and secure dollars for the site.”
The BST could provide such assistance as expedited site inspections, reviews and approvals by MassDEP, technical assistance on expedited permitting from EOHED, funding for assessment and cleanup from MassDevelopment, financial and technical assistance from MassDOT, and coordination with the Attorney General’s Office on liability issues.
An example Amesbury could look toward is the recently opened Railroad Square Garage in downtown Haverhill, which was a part of the first round of BST projects. Originally the site of Ted’s for Tires, the site had heavy gasoline and fuel oil contamination in the soil and groundwater.
With assistance from the BST, the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority and the City of Haverhill successfully cleaned up and redeveloped the site into a state-of-the-art, five-story parking garage.
“Brownfield clean-up projects are complicated because you have environmental, legal and funding issues,” Murray said. “But this process has proven to be successful.”