Officials: Riverfront cleanup has long been in the works

Officials: Riverfront cleanup has long been in the works

PAWTUCKET – Cleanup of contamination is a major theme of a four-month due diligence period for a planned new $400 million riverfront development, and local and state officials say they were working on cleanup strategy long before this proposal came along.

The most significant cleanup is planned at the 17-acre Tidewater site, where a new United Soccer League stadium is proposed by Fortuitous Partners as part of a larger project. National Grid recently submitted a plan to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management to further clean up that property, which has long been a source of concern for neighborhood residents.

The utility giant, which acquired the property in 2006, would bear the cost of cleaning up its 11.75 acres of the Tidewater site, and the city of Pawtucket will still need to clean up a portion of its 5.35-acre lot. National Grid has estimated between $20 million and $25 million of cleanup work, while Pawtucket is still determining how much its portion of the work would cost.

“The city continues to work alongside all of the parties in this historic $400 million economic investment that will change Pawtucket’s downtown and riverfront for decades to come,” said Wilder Arboleda, spokesman for Mayor Donald Grebien, in a statement this week. “While some remediation will be needed at the sites, all of the parties will ensure that all cleanup needs are taken care of. This project will take care of all of that and place great uses on each site at no expense to current taxpayers.”

Back in 2013, at a neighborhood meeting, residents spoke of distrusting National Grid. One woman said that after complaining about smells in the air from cleanup in 2010, she was told everything was fine. Once testing was done, the RIDEM found elevated levels of chemicals in the air.

Short-term cleanup measures over several years resulted in 443,340 gallons of liquid sludge being removed from holding tanks on the Tidewater site, according to National Grid six years ago.

Residents have repeatedly requested regular testing of air quality at various locations throughout the neighborhood, but their requests have proven fruitless.

National Grid representatives have said again and again that there is no risk posed by the site to the surrounding area, as the “majority of the pollution” here is at a sufficient depth.

Cleanup of various sites is expected to be done in plenty of time to develop a stadium and surrounding amenities and have soccer being played by 2022, according to National Grid and local officials.

A 10.77-acre city-owned lot across the river at 45 Division St., previously planned for multiple failed developments and with plenty of site work done in the past, is not believed to have much contamination of any kind.

From the 1880s through about the 1970s, a manufactured gas plant and electric generation facility operated at the end of Merry and Tidewater streets, on the Seekonk River. The Tidewater plant used industrial processes to produce gas from coal and oil. The site is located across the Seekonk River from Pawtucket’s redone Festival Pier.

The property previously drew interest from Churchill & Banks for a housing development to complement the former proposed baseball stadium at Apex.

Residents in the area have repeatedly said that the cleanup of the Tidewater site should be done in a way that protects them from underground pollutants.

The privately owned Apex site, measuring 12.19 acres, is the third parcel of property targeted for this development, though the developer has said the project could be completed without it. Arboleda said there are ongoing discussions with Apex representatives about the site.

“At this point, we feel that conversations are going well and we hope to come to a successful conclusion,” he said. “Some remediation may be needed at the site, and we will have more information as the process continues.”

Added Bill Fischer, spokesman for the owners of Apex, “Representatives of Apex acknowledge that they have been in discussions with both the city and the Commerce Corp. They have approached these discussions with an appreciation of what the announced development could mean for the city and have engaged in good faith.

“All parties involved in these discussions have signed a non-disclosure agreement,” he added. “With respect to the process and because of the NDA, we will not be discussing the status of conversations that remain ongoing.”

Back in 2017, the administration strongly contested claims that there were some $6.5 million in costs associated with cleaning up the Apex site. A report done on behalf of the city during baseball stadium negotiations showed site work was done previously at the department store site, with environmental concerns addressed by maintaining a cap on the property.

A lawsuit from Teknor Apex stated that Apex owner Andrew Gates had demanded $6.5 million for unnecessary environmental cleanup costs and stated that issues with contaminated soils were resolved in 2014. The lawsuit stated that Apex Development Company was seeking the $6.5 million for anticipated cleanup costs to restore the property to “pristine condition,” which would not be needed for development.

A report from Sage Environmental summarizes previous findings from environmental consulting firm GZA showing contamination levels exceeding residential direct exposure criteria standards, but finding those levels consistent with the presence of “urban fill” and only in the top 8 feet of soil at the Apex site on Main Street.

The RIDEM previously approved a simple “capping” remedy, involving maintaining existing asphalt pavement, limited landscaped areas and the building slab.

If future excavation is done, according to Sage’s report, caps must simply be restored to the standards of a DEM-approved soil management plan.

On the Tidewater site, said Arboleda, the city has been working alongside National Grid for years with the shared goal of cleaning up that site according to RIDEM requirements to use it for the benefit of the community.

“We are excited to announce that the private partner has been found in Fortuitous for productive use of the property,” he said.

“The city has some remediation to be completed on its parcel, while National Grid will be capping the majority of their site where polluted materials may also need to be removed,” he added. While it’s too early to determine how much the public investment associated with the city parcel will be, this will be done so as due diligence proceeds, he said. The public investment does not include any cleanup on National Grid’s site as National Grid is responsible for the cost of cleanup on the property that it owns, he said.

“Fortuitous has communicated with National Grid and the parties are coordinating on further refinement of the site plan which is expected to yield a more definitive design,” said Arboleda. “This can then be integrated with the RIDEM-approved remediation strategy for the property. We look forward to continuing our collaboration with National Grid and thank them for being positive partners throughout this process.”

Fortuitous hopes to sign a long-term lease with National Grid for the stadium land.

The city is not aware of any cleanup required on the Division Street property, said Arboleda.