NEWBURYPORT — A licensed site professional answered questions from city councilors Thursday regarding the presence of soil contaminants and hazardous materials at 57 Low St. during a joint meeting of the Committee on Planning & Development and Committee on Budget & Finance. 

Rick Vandenberg, senior hydrogeologist with Credere Associates LLC, gave a summary of his team's findings from a Phase I environmental site assessment of the armory garage at 57 Low St. completed in May.

He also presented a hazardous building materials survey and a visual assessment of potential polychlorinated biphenyl-contaminated materials of the property. Both were completed in December. 

The city's arrangement with the state Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, which is overseeing the Low Street site's sale, prevented the consultants from taking any samples of potential PCB-contaminated materials, which is why a visual survey was completed instead.

In its assessment, Credere identified residual petroleum in the soil from a leaking underground storage tank, which was removed about 1998, as one recognized environmental condition. 

Vandenberg said no action is necessary to address the residual petroleum, unless there are any plans to disturb the soil with redevelopment, for which City Council President Jared Eigerman requested more information. 

If the city purchases the property at Low Street, the intended use is still undetermined.

As Eigerman and other councilors pointed out, one of the proposals is to move Newburyport Youth Services there, which could include expanding the building into the space where there is petroleum in the soil.

The actual plan, if Youth Services or a city department moves there, has not been decided.

Petroleum contaminants degrade over time through natural processes, Vandenberg explained, saying the residue has likely diminished, rather than spread.

If someone builds a foundation in that soil, the potential contaminants would need to be managed and likely disposed of in accordance with state law, he said. 

Ward 3 Councilor Heather Shand, who chairs the Committee on Planning & Development, asked if clay soil, which is present on Low Street, would degrade those contaminants at the same rate. Vandenberg said it depends on the organics in the soil, saying inorganic soil may take more time. 

Ward 6 Councilor Byron Lane, who has a real estate background, asked why soil borings were not part of the assessment, especially with redevelopment of the site on the table. His concern was shared repeatedly by a few other councilors.

Borings are part of a Phase II assessment, which is not recommended by the licensed site professional at this time. Vandenberg said borings should be done if the city plans to disturb the potentially contaminated soil, but are not necessary in the acquisition of the property. He added that a lot of remediation has been done.

Matthew Coogan, chief of staff in the mayor's office, said the city has likely taken these assessments as far as it can in terms of what is agreeable to the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance. If the city acquires the land, it may pursue borings.

Other findings from Credere included impacts to the soil due to the former storage of contaminated ballast material, a recognized environmental condition. The consultant did not suggest further action.

In its environmental findings, Credere found the potential presence of asbestos-containing materials in and on the site building, including an expansion gasket and corrugated roofing. The estimated cost of abatement for these materials was $600 to $900 for the gasket and $40,800 to $68,000 for the roof. 

The potential presence of lead paint was identified on the flagpole and the exterior metal garage bumpers. The remediation cost was estimated at less than $3,500. 

The consultants also discovered the potential low-risk presence of PCB-containing building materials in the expansion gasket, beige baseboard adhesive throughout the building, mastic under 12-inch floor tile beneath machinery and caulk around the entrance door.

 To view the consultant's full 1,049-page document, go to www.cityofnewburyport.com/sites/g/files/vyhlif3521/f/uploads/phase_i_esa_armory_garage_5-6-20.pdf?fbclid=IwAR1qmEcYdUXLulgE2wSckSb5EnLFhuB3do8xX30PmXrXoXeNi__k2koHeoY.

A full recording of the meeting is expected to be posted on the city website. 

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