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Clean Up of Former Army Site Beginning Soon, Will be Turned into Recreation Land

Contamination will be removed from the GSA site, on Greenough Boulevard, and buildings will be torn down to make way for wetlands and passive recreation.

Representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers revealed general plans for removing the last of the contamination from the former Army facility along Greenough Boulevard in Watertown on Monday night.

The project, which is being paid for out of the federal Superfund program, includes removal of PCB contaminated soil, demolishing old Army buildings and creation of a new wetland, said Michael Kunce, project manager with Charter Environmental, the contractor hired by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to oversee the cleanup.

Surveys found some "hot spots" for PCB contamination where there is more than 50 ppm of contamination was found in a former burn pit used to dispose of depleted uranium and other materials.

The contaminated soil will be removed and taken to the Model City Hazardous Waste Facility in Youngstown, N.Y., said Ellen Iorio, project manager with the Army Corps of Engineers. Other soil and materials being removed will go to the Minerva Landfill in Ohio, Iorio said.

The demolition of the buildings also poses a challenge, Kunce said, because asbestos has been found in paint, window seals and other materials used to construct them. 

The buildings, warehouses and other facilities, will be taken down in early 2013, Kunce said.

"As far as when the buildings will be demolished, it could be as early as January, but it could be as late as March," Kunce said. "It really depends on the weather. If we get a coating of snow, we can't do the remediation."

When the buildings have been removed, the area will be turned into a wetland.

"Because the area we are cleaning up is a wetland, we will reconstruct the wetland area of 2 acres," Kunce said. "Where we construct the wetlands will be in the footprint of the buildings (being demolished)."

The former wetland, where the PCBs will be removed, will be turned over to the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. Eventually, it will be converted into an area for passive recreation, said Michael Misslin, chief engineer with the DCR.  Exactly what the recreation area will look like has not been decided yet, he said. 

"We will get back a clean site and work with the community to fit it into the (DCR's) Charles River unit," Misslin said. 

The plans are just preliminary, Iorio said, and a more detailed plan will be drawn up in early 2013. 

Nancy Hammett, a former member of the Watertown Conservation Commission, said she wanted to make sure the public would have a chance to give input about what to do with the soil removed from the contaminated areas. 

Iorio said a public meeting will be held each time a major step is taken during the clean up. One meeting is planned for late December to present a draft of the action plan for the clean up, and a second will be held in early 2013 to talk about the wetland recreation.

Marylouise McDermott, chairwoman of the Conservation Commission, thanked the Army Corps, the state DEP and other officials at the meeting for the clean up effort. 

"We are most grateful for the efforts you are taking (at the GSA site)," McDermott said. 

The end of the clean up has been a long time in coming, said Marilyn Pettito Devaney, a former Town Councilor. She estimates it has been 35 years that Watertown officials have been pushing for the area to be cleaned up.

Devaney remembers in 1997 when residents of the Charles River Town condominiums called her to say the birds were gone from the wetlands and a strange yellow substance was coming out of the ground in the area where the PCBs were found. 

"I will be very happy when the land is turned over to the DCR," Devaney said. "It has been a political football maybe going on for 100 years."

Residents with questions about the project can contact Anne Malewicz, section chief of federal facilities for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. She can be reached at 617-292-5659.

The Army Corps will also set up a website where information and updates on the GSA site clean up will be posted, Kunce said. Residents can also sign up for email notification of any new postings about the project. 

A copy of the presenation made by the Army Corps and Charter Environmental will be posted on the Town of Watertown's website, likely after Thanksgiving weekend, Iorio said. 

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