AMESBURY — Reminders of the town's past as an industrial powerhouse are about to be unearthed as National Grid looks to clean up by-products left behind from a former coal gasification site.
Amesbury's Planning Board and Conservation Commission met in a joint session Monday night to hear National Grid's plans for the $2.4 million clean-up project for its property at 39 Water St.
As the utility company begins the process of filing for permits, creating site plans and hiring consultants for the cleanup, Amesbury officials thought it was prudent to learn the details together to allow for a "streamlined, seamless approach," Conservation Agent John Lopez said.
"It's an overall view of what will be needed," Lopez said.
Because the affected land is within a riverfront area, it is governed by the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act and Amesbury's wetlands ordinances and is subject to a higher level of regulatory review.
The Water Street site is the former home of the Amesbury Manufactured Gas Plant, an industrial company that thrived at the turn of the 20th century as it gasified coal to illuminate lamps and generate electricity for the town. The coal tar and by-products of the process, then not seen as harmful, were disposed in the river and left to seep into the land.
Now more than 100 years later, National Grid owns the 1.8-acre property and is legally responsible for cleaning up the coal tar and its by-products.
According to an environmental notification form filed with the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, contamination exists within the soil, groundwater, sediment and surface water. Cleanup will occur at two lots at 39 Water St., one owned by National Grid and another by the city, and a third parcel at 33 Oakland St., which is privately owned and was sullied by migrating contaminants. The total affected land is a little more than two acres. National Grid will cover the $2.4 million cost.
Plans call for excavating contaminated soil to a depth of three feet, then re-establishing grades with clean soil and vegetation. Contaminated soil will be transported off-site to a licensed disposal site. The excavation area will be segregated from unblemished wetlands by vertical steel sheeting to ensure no further spread of contaminants. A wetlands vegetation plan to replace uprooted plants is also a key aspect of the project, as is the implementation of an invasive species control plan.
"The point of the cleanup is twofold," Lopez said. "It will minimize the risk to human health as well as environmental receptors."
The final plan will also account for the safety of neighbors, which Lopez said is a routine concern when dealing with contaminants. Public comment sessions eventually will be scheduled to hear residents' concerns.
The cleanup project is still in a conceptual stage. Barring any unforeseen delays, the project is slated to begin in April. Lopez said the project, from the cleanup to replanting uprooted vegetation to a monitoring period for safety, will take three to four years, with the cleanup alone requiring two years to complete.
Town Planner Nipun Jain said the joint session of the Planning Board and Conservation Commission is a valuable approach to projects like this, allowing all parties to get on the same page.
"This was a first introduction of the project and permits needed; no applications have even been filed yet," he said. "It's a way to look at issues beforehand and make sure everything is in order."