, Newburyport, MA

September 19, 2013

NRA: Lots can be built upon


---- — NEWBURYPORT — The Newburyport Redevelopment Authority and its engineers last night declared the riverfront land it owns is buildable, after test borings on the land were made public.

“This is good information that we have received,” said Adam Guild, NRA treasurer and a construction manager. “Buildings can be constructed on the east or west lot.”

At the end of the NRA’s public meeting, NRA members unanimously voted to “take the next step” and register the engineering firm’s findings with the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The NRA owns 4.2 acres of land on the central waterfront now used as parking lots, and its tentative vision is to build three structures totaling about 70,000 square feet. The three-story buildings would include shops, a restaurant and 30-35 condominium units.

NRA members in recent months reasoned that, in order to inform prospective developers and/or lenders about the nature of the soil there, they needed to get more data. So several months ago, they retained GZA Environmental, Inc. of Norwood and Newburyport to administer borings to determine if the land can accommodate structures.

The borings took place in early August, and engineers said they probed the land (closest to Merrimac Street) upon which structures would stand.

GZA last night reported back with a 400-page report.The NRA now has 120 days to register the information with the DEP. The long-awaited report of the borings results drew a standing-room-only crowd of about 75 residents for the NRA meeting to the library’s program room.

At least two factors were addressed by GZA: Is the soil “healthy enough” upon which to build public venues and residential units, and is the land elevated enough to weather concerns about flood-plain considerations.

The answers to both questions appeared to be in the affirmative, albeit with caveats.

Engineer Frank Vetere, an associate principal of GZA, stated that soil in both east and west lots is contaminated by its years of exposure to businesses ranging from coal yards to gas stations, but the foul soil can be excavated and removed.

The report said that groundwater samples analyzed from two monitoring wells installed on the lots revealed no hazardous concentrations in prospective building areas.

Vetere said that the moderately contaminated soil can be disposed of safely, but at a cost. Charts showed that disposal costs for the west lot would be about $345,000 and for the east lot, about $230,000, if the land is not paved over on another part of the property.

The NRA would not pay those costs; instead, a developer would be responsible. NRA members said last night the financial estimates will benefit construction companies who want a ballpark figure on getting rid of contaminated earth.

The removal of earth is part of another engineering challenge: creating underground parking. The NRA members have said that parking for residential units would have to go beneath the surface. GZA findings show that excavation for underground parking can be done, and still be within the guidelines of the 100-year flood plain elevation.

An executive report stated, “The parking garage can be constructed below the 100-year flood plain, provided that measures to protect the garage from flood are incorporated in the building design.”

Such protective measures could include “waterproofing of the exterior walls and subslab, installation of sump pumps, basement drainage systems, site grading to prevent water from entering the garage and the installation of watertight entry doors that can be closed when flood conditions are imminent,” according the executive summary.

It was said that earth removal to the depth of 12 feet would accommodate “the excavation needs for the sub-level parking.”

The executive report said that the 100-year flood plain elevation at the site is about 13 feet, which is an acceptable depth.

Vetere said that the NRA must take numerous steps before any construction is even considered, including ordering a formal risk assessment report and developing cost estimates.