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Eyesore Comes Down, and Cheers Go Up

Long-polluted Chelmsford factory site to be cleaned

September 2, 2011 : The Lowell Sun, by Joyce Tsai

CHELMSFORD – Standing by small mountains of broken concrete, rusted pipe and other debris in a barren lot, federal, state and town officials found reason to celebrate yesterday.

After years of neglect and decay, the former Silicon Transistor factory at 27 Katrina Road was ripped down last month, an important milestone in the long-anticipated cleanup of one of the state’s most contaminated sites.

Officials hailed the interagency collaboration that helped the town finally make it happen.

They also celebrated the additional funding of $600,000 that has been granted by federal and state agencies over the past year, as a result of the Patrick administration’s Brownfield Support Team Initiative, which has helped to fast-track cleanup of the site.

Much of the additional funding will go to reimburse for the building’s demolition and cleanup. The Environmental Protection Agency contributed $218,245 for the site assessment, and then kicked in another $200,000 for the project. In addition, MassDevelopment, which administers the Brownfield Redevelopment Fund, provided a $152,835 grant to help with the building’s cleanup. MassDEP also invested $257,000 to help pay for the environmental testing of the ground underneath.

The designation as a priority project means up to $2 million in Brownfields funds are available for the project.

The final stage of the demolition, which began last month, will be completed next week. That will pave the way for the next step of cleanup: a full site assessment and testing of a contamination plume that runs underground at the site, which should start Sept. 12 and further boost the site’s cleanup and future redevelopment.

State officials said the site’s designation this year as one of six state-prioritized Brownfields Support Team Initiative Sites, a program that was launched by Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray, helped the town to obtain the necessary funding and collaborative spirit to advance the project’s cleanup.

They also commended the town leadership and vision in finding ways to collaborate with the state to clean up the site and recognize its redevelopment potential.

“As a municipal leader, it’s always easier to do nothing and blame everybody in the past, but the true leaders are the ones that stand up and have a vision and stick it out,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard Sullivan, commending Town Manager Paul Cohen for his efforts.

“We all need to be rowing the boat in the same direction, and this is a perfect example of everyone getting onto the same page,” he said.

The demolition of the building was important not only to the environmental cleanup of the area, but because the building was long considered a public-safety hazard. Five years ago, the building had squatters inside of it, and it was contaminated with mold and asbestos, Cohen said. Its presence also prevented the town from assessing the extent of contamination underneath.

In 2006, the town took over the property, which was valued at $1.74 million, for nonpayment of $174,000 in back taxes. At that time, that seemed like a risky proposition, since so much cleanup was needed for the site. The land is contaminated with chlorinated volatile organic compounds, left behind by Silicon Transistor, a high-tech manufacturer.

Since Silicon Transistor left, the site was used by tenants mostly as storage for items including tires and motorcycles. And as of 2007, it only had one tenant, Drum Hill Cycle-Northeast Cycle Salvage, based in Tewksbury. The DEP also had concerns over air quality for those using the building.

Sullivan said the demolition has brought him “a tremendous sigh of relief.”

“We will aggressively work with MassDevelopment and other partners to bring this site back on the tax rolls for the town of Chelmsford, he said. “More importantly than that, to provide jobs and economic opportunity for the town.”

MassDEP Commissioner Kenneth Kimmell called the cleanup efforts “a true partnership” between the town, state and federal agencies all working toward the same goal.

The site was listed as one of the most serious contamination sites since 1989, and it is in attractive location for redevelopment because it is right next to Interstate 495 and Route 3, as well as the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail and the Chelmsford Mall. And though it poses no danger to the public, it is also located about 2,000 feet away from a nearby drinking well.

Cohen said he hopes that, with the cleanup, the site might one day become home to an office building, helping to bring jobs to the area.

© Copyright 2011 The Lowell Sun.