City leaders said Wednesday they’re not putting off the cleanup of a polluted parcel downtown.
The federal stimulus cash that City Hall plans to tap to help clean up a contaminated former box factory site downtown doesn’t require the work to be done for nearly three more years.
But city officials said Wednesday they expect to be finished long before the deadline.
By springtime, the city should be able to begin to do “the dig and haul” that would remove most of the polluted soil on the School Street parcel, according to Robyn Bugbee, the city’s grants administrator.
Bugbee said that neither the city nor the Environmental Protection Agency has any desire “to sit around” and wait to get the work done.
To meet the federal guidelines governing a $345,000 brownfields grant is that the remediation of the polluted site has to be completed by August 2012.
That doesn’t mean that a proposed municipal parking lot on the site will be finished, however. The lot requires additional funding. There is no set timetable to complete it, officials said.
The Board of Finance backed the project this week on a 7-2 vote – with only Roald Erling and Mark Peterson voting against it – despite some misgivings about the way the economy is heading.
The city aims next to solicit proposals from engineering firms that are capable of overseeing the entire remediation process so that a single licensed environmental professional can handle the entire job, Bugbee said.
By March, she said, the city will have used stimulus cash to hire a firm, conduct activities to involve the community, enroll in a voluntary state remediation program and secure EPA and state Department of Environmental Protection approvals to start the work itself.
The federal government rules require each of those steps be done by next August, she said, a year after the city formally received its grant money. It got official notice only on August 22, months after it heard informally at a press conference held by the EPA on the site.
City officials plan to spend the federal stimulus cash first, then dip into the $268,000 in municipal matching funds required to complete the job that fiscal overseers approved.
The 50 to 75-space parking lot will take extra money that’s not allocated yet.
The remediation effort, though, will involve at least some pavement.
Public Works Director Walter Veselka said that some areas of the site will need to be capped with asphalt to prevent water from reaching the ground beneath, where it could perhaps carry contaminants into the stream that runs through the property.
It’s possible that most of the site will wind up with a layer of pavement, officials said, even before a parking lot is built. It would serve only as a sub-layer for the eventual parking lot, however.
Bugbee said it’s important to get the cleanup underway as early as possible in case the city finds something unexpected when it starts digging out polluted soil.
An early start, she said, ensures there is plenty of time to cope with any unanticipated problems without worrying about the three-year deadline to use the stimulus cash.
The box factory site has been the subject of a number of environmental studies over the past decade that have generally laid out what’s in the ground that needs to be removed.
Bugbee said that “the dirty dirt” there will be scooped out and hauled away in keeping with environmental protocol.
Other sections of the lot will be paved, Veselka said.
The factory itself burned in a spectacular fire about 12 years ago. The city wound up taking the property for back taxes a year later and razing what was left of the buildings on it.
Ultimately, the area is expected to provide parking for the neighboring Board of Education, the Imagine Nation museum across the street and nearby businesses, including Mafale’s Plaza.
Bugbee said some bus parking will be included to help the museum
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