MANCHESTER — Town officials have decided to act sooner rather than later when it comes to advancing the cleanup of a former burn dump site on Pine Street.
A warrant article, petitioned by the Board of Selectmen, has been added to the April 1 Annual Town Meeting warrant that would allow the town to use eminent domain or take out an easement to access the site, regardless of whether the property owner signs off on the paperwork allowing the cleanup.
About five acres of land along Pine Street and Rockwood Heights once operated as a burn dump in the 1950s. Homeowners occupied the contaminated site without notice from the town or former land owner in the 1970s. As a result, the area was contaminated with high levels of arsenic, lead, chromium and other metals.
In 2009 and 2010, however — after a later homebuyer’s soil tests failed state Department of Environmental Protection testing — the town spent about $2.4 million to buy up contaminated properties in order to move the houses and clean the properties to meet DEP deadlines that now call for the area to be cleaned and capped by April 2014.
However, one property owner, Ana Costa, has not signed off on the proper paperwork that would allow the town to excavate and decontaminate her parcel of land, which measures about half an acre. And it is that site that town officials fear will prevent the town from meeting the DEP mandates.
Town Administrator Wayne Melville, now serving in an interim role after retiring and awaiting the naming of his permanent successor, said the article, if passed, could have some legal repercussions, but the town must meet the state DEP deadline of 2014.
“She (Costa) can bring a claim for damages, that we expect,” he said.
But in order to meet the DEP deadline, the town must get the needed approval to go forward at Annual Town Meeting to get the wheels in motion.
Costa’s attorney, Shepard Johnson, did not return calls placed by the Times.
Costa’s property sits adjacent to, not on top of, the former burn dump site. But two other residents with property abutting the former burn dump site had previously signed off on notice of intent forms with the Conservation Commission, Melville said.
The town did not offer to buy up abutting houses, only ones on the contaminated site.
“The easement allows us to do two things,” he said. “... it gives us legal standing to apply for the permits and it allows us to clean up what we are obliged to clean up. That’s the primary goal here.”
Additionally, the town already has plans and specifications of the cleanup in place, although they could be modified as the permitting process moves forward. Melville added the terms of a cleanup still have to be negotiated, but having the right permits is a step in the right direction for the town.
If the town does not meet the deadline, the Department of Environmental Protection would at first try to act as a mediator and determine if the town made every effort possible to gain access to the site, DEP spokesman Joe Ferson said. Ferson noted that he was speaking about similar instances in the past, not this specific project.
“We would try to work and resolve the dispute,” he said.
In an April 2012 report by Woodward and Curran, an engineering firm hired by the town to assess the damage indicated the contamination on Costa’s property may or may not be related to the former burn dump site.
However, the area was included within the site boundary.
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.