GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

January 25, 2013

Cleanup roadblock on Pine Street

One homeowner holding out from deal to have land cleaned, excavated

By James Niedzinski
Staff Writer

---- — MANCHESTER — Town officials are concerned that proper permits will not be in place in order to have a former dump site capped and meet the demands of a state environmental mandate.

That’s because one of the three homeowners whose property was found to be abutting ground above a one-time burn dump have not yet reached an agreement with the town for the cleanup of her property, and continues to live in the house that remains on the site.

Town Administrator Wayne Melville said the property owner of 162 Pine St., Ana Costa, has not signed off on proper permits, which would allow contractors to clean the area, or on any sale agreement. The proposal needs to be approved by the Conservation Commission.

Two other residents — who, like Costa, live adjacent to, but not on the former burn dump site — have previously signed off on agreements to have their land excavated and properly cleaned, Melville said. The move to cap the site must be approved by a vote at a Town Meeting, but nothing can be proposed until the site is properly cleaned. With the Town Meeting scheduled for April, Melville said the chances of meeting deadline are not likely.

A spokesman for the state DEP, Edmund Coletta, said officials are working to come up with a proper proposal that would excavate contaminated material and sediments from a nearby stream, which runs just behind Costa’s property.

The five-acre site on Pine Street was used as a burn dump in the 1950s and houses were built on the land after the dump was closed down. When Julie and David Gesner tried to sell their home, which once sat on 156 Pine St., they discovered toxic levels of cadmium, arsenic, lead and chromium in 2008. Soil testing, performed by Woodard and Curran, began in September 2008. After confirming the levels of the metals and toxins were higher than normal, town officials took action.

The town bought the Gesners’ home, along with two other properties at 158 and 160 Pine St., in 2009 in order to properly clean the site, and carried out a cleanup at a cost of $2.4 million, with those houses sold at auction and then moved to other sites. However, the town has a deadline in April of 2014, set by the state Department of Environmental Protection to cap the site, which involves six parcels of land altogether.

Town officials did not offer to buy Costa’s home in the past because her house merely abuts the former dump site; it did not sit on top of it, Melville said. But the town is required to restore the land to background levels — levels of lead, arsenic, cadmium and chromium that are close to the naturally occurring levels.

He said according to the licensed site professionals, the contamination underneath Costa’s property is not as deep as properties directly on the dump. The contamination only runs about one foot deep, while sites that were on the former dump had much deeper levels of contamination.

Town officials have been trying to solidify the specifics of a cleanup process on the property, but Melville said Costa still had questions about the process and the cleanup work to be carried out.

Ana Costa refused to comment Thursday about the status of her property, and her attorney, Shepard Johnson, did not return phone calls placed by the Times.

But Joao Faria, who lives along with Costa at 162 Pine St., said he is having health concerns that may be linked to the contamination. He said he has had signs of exhaustion, anemia, high blood pressure as well as lower white and red blood cell counts, which he thinks may be linked to the contamination levels.

Faria also said the town should have been more assertive in getting him and Costa removed from the property once they knew about the high contamination levels.

Previously, town officials considered buying a portion of Costa’s property closest to the dump and proceeding with the cleanup from there, but backed off, believing that might only further complicate the issue. Melville said if the town did buy a portion of her land, she might be required to go through the Board of Appeals if she wanted to change anything.

”We just didn’t want to put her in that position,” he said.

Melville said he’s uncertain what, if any, action state officials will take if the town does not meet the April 2014 deadline, but he hopes an extension will be granted.

Once the area is capped, it must remain open space and free of any houses for 30 years, Melville said.

“We are at the 11 hour and 45-minute mark,” he said.

James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at jniedzinski@gloucestertimes.com.