NEWBURYPORT — The city’s contractor is set to begin work next month to remove PCB-contaminated soil from a riverfront stretch of the Clipper City Rail Trail that has been closed for more than two years.

The PCBs were found during soil testing behind the wastewater treatment plant on Water Street in spring 2017. Because PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are considered hazardous, the city had to fence off the area and start sampling, bringing work on that stretch of the trail to a halt while officials created a plan to remove the contaminated dirt.  

PCBs are organic chlorine compounds once widely used in coolant for electrical devices. They are known to cause cancer in animals and suspected to be a human carcinogen. The PCBs are believed to be a remnant of an era when trains ran through the South End to the waterfront.

Now, according to Mayor Donna Holaday, the city has selected NRC East Environmental Services to carry out the cleanup. Holaday announced during the City Council meeting Monday that the city accepted the company’s bid of $237,997 for the project.

Geordie Vining, the city’s senior project manager who is leading the soil removal project, said work should start in late November and, with the project’s 90-day contract term, it should be completed by the end of January.

Vining said 18 inches of soil will have to be dug up along a 130-foot stretch of the rail trail corridor, which is about 30 feet wide. 

The bulk of the work will be loading the soil into trucks and disposing it, and should “only take a handful of discontinuous days,” according to Vining.

 The contaminated soil will be shipped to a disposal facility in Michigan, and another company will examine the remaining land and send samples to a lab for analysis before the area is backfilled and compacted. After that, Vining said, the city should be able to reopen the area so the public can walk along the shoreline again.

“It’s a good milestone,” Vining said. “We’ve been looking forward to this for a couple of years.”

Vining noted that after the soil is replaced, the city still hopes to raise the level of the rail trail to make it less vulnerable to sea level rise, storm surge and flooding while also lessening risks to the neighboring wastewater treatment plant. 

Vining said the city now has some preliminary plans for the design of the raised area of the trail. But with costs estimated at about $1.2 million, Vining said the city still must work to come up with money to carry out the project and he hopes construction will begin by this time next year.

Staff writer Jack Shea covers Newbury­port City Hall. He can be reached via email at jshea@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3154. Follow him on Twitter @iamjackshea.

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