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Cleanup On The Horizon?

January 11, 2011 : The Berkshire Eagle, by Trevor Jones

GREAT BARRINGTON – The cleanup and redevelopment of the former New England Log Homes site could finally take shape this year, as developers set their sites of passing the remaining hurdles in the coming weeks.

Timothy Geller, executive director of Community Development Corp. of South Berkshire, said the CDC, which purchased the Bridge Street site in 2007, is pulling together the final funding for cleanup of the contaminated site, and hopes to begin work there this spring.

The Community Development Assistance Corp., a quasi-state agency, will meet on Jan. 20 to decide whether or not to provide the CDC with $400,000 for the demolition of the site.

That would be the final funding required for the $1.1 million demolition on the 8-acre parcel. The CDC has already received $325,000 in federal grants for the demolition, as well as $375,000 in grants and loans from the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.

“If this works out, then we’re off and running,” said Geller. “It’s been a very long time coming.”

The site is contaminated with polychlorinated phenyls – not to be confused with PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls – that were used in oils that sealed New England Log Homes’ wood products.

The site was abandoned in 1994 when New England Log Homes went bankrupt, and a fire destroyed the main building several years later. The site today is an overgrown eyesore, with its decaying buildings visible from the road.

The CDC already received $2 million from MassDevelopment to dredge and cap the contaminated ground, money that can’t be spent until the demolition is complete.

Once the site has been cleaned, CDC plans to spend $20 million building new structures for commercial and residential uses. The site could house as many as 70 residential units, with some of those dedicated to affordable or elderly housing.

Geller said the site, with its access to the Housatonic River, could be a gathering place for the town given the coinciding redevelopment of the Searles/Bryant complex – a site the CDC is also involved with.

Another key piece for the project was taken care of in late December, as TD Bank forgave the remaining $1 million owed on mortgage held over from the previous owner.

The CDC on Monday night began discussions with the town about a Brownfields tax abatement, something Geller said is critical to the project and he hopes to have completed in the next four to six weeks.

“We need this,” said Geller. “No one is going to lend us money if there’s a $300,000 tax bill hanging over it.”

Town records show back taxes – accrued during previous ownership – to be closer to $100,000, far short of Geller’s projections. Sean Stanton, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said the discrepancy is not a major hurdle to the deal, and he was glad to see the CDC come before the board.

“It’s good to see that it’s got some traction,” said Stanton.

© Copyright 2011 The Berkshire Eagle.