Cumberland adopts plan to develop 62-acre park in Lonsdale

Cumberland adopts plan to develop 62-acre park in Lonsdale

CUMBERLAND – A newly adopted plan lays the groundwork for the town to eventually acquire the Peterson/Puritan Superfund site, which is set to undergo a $40 million contamination cleanup.

A conservation and management plan approved last week by the Town Council spells out the town’s interest in developing New Pond Park, a 62-acre park running from Berkeley to behind Stop & Shop on Mendon Road in Lonsdale.

Planning and Community Development Director Jonathan Stevens explained to the council that this follows the recommendation of the Environmental Protection Agency for the town to acquire the property for eventual use by residents.

Once the cleanup is done, the property capped, and the vegetation restored, the park can be utilized much like many of the other large parks in town, he said, with hiking trails, connections to the bike path along the river, portage areas for canoes and kayaks, playgrounds, ballfields and basketball courts, among others.

Stevens listed examples from other similar transformations of former dumps, including the Rivers Edge Complex in Woonsocket and Millennium Park in Boston.

Once that cap is in place, he said, amenities can be added to the site and it will be safe for the public to use.

Mayor Jeffrey Mutter called the park development a “very intriguing project.” This isn’t a situation where development happens in two years and you’re done, he said, but future leaders will be positioned to make expenditures to make improvements as they deem appropriate.

New Pond Park would add a nice balance on park space to complement Diamond Hill Park on the other end of Cumberland, adding acreage on the southern end of town, Mutter said.

Councilor Lisa Beaulieu agreed that the park space would add a lot of value to the southern end of town and “helps address some of the gaps” on Cumberland’s park space. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how popular some of the town’s park spaces are, she said, and this is an important part of the Heritage Corridor. So often a parcel of land such as this is unusable, she said, and it’s great that this one will be able to be utilized.

Also last week, the Town Council approved a resolution engaging Desautel Law as special counsel on matters related to the Peterson/Puritan site. The conservation and management plan also recommends engaging engineering consulting design services to help the town as it enters negotiations on the parcel.

The EPA’s 2015 record of decision on the property calls for active and passive recreation uses. As owner, the town could apply for a variety of grants to develop those uses. A superfund law’s “BonaFide Prospective Purchaser” provision protects the town from legal liability related to cleanup and capping of the site. Additional indemnification steps are also available, meaning the town’s liability at the facility would be no different than any other town park.

At one time a water impoundment area named New Pond designed to maintain adequate water flow to the local mills, the Peterson/Puritan Superfund site measures about a mile long and varies in width between 1,200 and 1,900 feet.

After World War II, a newly installed dump accepted millions of cubic yards of trash and industrial toxic waste.

The EPA’s 2015 record of decision declared that the site must be cleaned up and capped by the 22 or so responsible parties as part of a $40 million plan.

This site, said Stevens, is in the heart of the Blackstone River National Heritage Park and Greenway that the RIDEM is managing. The plan puts the town at the table in terms of what the space will eventually look like.

Ten or 15 years from now, when vegetation is regrown, the site will be an asset to an area that’s currently underrepresented for park availability, said Stevens.

He said he envisions a two-year period of negotiating, design, and acquisition, and the town wouldn’t move to Superior Court for the title until an agreement is reached. Once that agreement is in place, he said, construction of the park would take about 18 months.

Stevens said it’s impossible to put an exact figure on what all of this will cost, but said consulting fees may be eligible for RIDEM grants. Answering a question from Beaulieu, he said it’s also common for responsible parties in a contamination cleanup to put money in escrow for a maintenance fund.

Council President Craig Dwyer said moving on the property allows the town to redevelop the property in its own way, and not in the EPA’s way.

A conservation and management plan is similar to a master plan in that it provides the Town Council’s policy guidance for the intended future use of a property.

Comments

Proximity to the bike path and senior housing makes this a great place for a park. A marker or other “memorial” to the history of William Blaxton (Blackstone) and Lonsdale raceway would be nice, too.

Kudos to the Town for getting this done, a good use of what was once polluted property