[Updated at 4:15 p.m. on July 18.]
An eyesore and contaminated former Army facility at the corner of Arsenal Street and Greenough Boulevard will be cleaned up using federal funds.
The 12-acre property used to be part of the U.S. Army’s Watertown Arsenal and part of the land was used as a burning pit. It will be turned into wetlands that can be used for “passive recreation.”
Watertown officials received the news Tuesday, and celebrated the end of a decades long push to clean up what has become known as the GSA site. Town Councilor Susan Falkoff beamed as she made the announcement to her fellow councilors about the agreement to clean up the property.
"We had gotten so close before and every time we got close something got in the way," said Falkoff who also served as president of the Watertown Citizens for Peace, Justice and the Environment (formerly Watertown Citizens for Environmental Safety) and the Arsenal Reuse Committee. "And no one would consider removing the buildings."
The Clean Up
The Army Corps of Engineers and the GSA (General Services Administration) will pay for the $4.3 million clean up project, said Steve Magoon, Watertown’s director of Economic Development and Planning. Work will begin in September or October, and is scheduled to be completed by the spring or summer of 2013, said Town Councilor Angeline Kounelis.
The work will remove contaminated soil, and also remove old buildings that are falling apart, Magoon said.
Town Councilor Tony Palomba said he is happy to see the agreement reached, including removing the buildings.
“The clean up includes taking down the awful crumbling buildings,” Palomba said. “For years and years agencies said they can’t take down buildings, it is not what they do, but they found a way.”
An area of particular concern is the “burn box,” which will be part of the clean up.
“A lot of material was put in the pit and burned. There was extensive contamination,” Magoon said. “They will remove the soil, cap it and recreate wetlands.”
History of the Site
The land was leased to the U.S. Army in 1948, and in 1960 part of the site was designated as a site to “stabilize” depleted uranium scraps and shavings from the machining of munitions at the Watertown Arsenal, according to a report from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
In 1967, the GSA took over the site and used it to store and auction off government surplus items, including vehicles. It was closed in 1984.
A number of environmental studies have been conducted on the site, and soil contaminated with radioactive material was removed from the burn box area in 1993. PCBs have also been found in the area of the burn box.
The area will become wetlands, Magoon said, and some foot paths may be added.
Falkoff said she was thrilled that the agreement had been reached and thanked the many people in town who have pushed for the clean up, including Town Councilor Angeline Kounelis, State Rep. Jonathan Hecht, State Sen. Will Brownsberger, former-State Sen. Steven Tolman, resident Ernesta Kraczkiewicz, the Conservation Commission and the Watertown Citizens for Peace, Justice and the Environment.