This cleanup will be the final phase of the Niagara Mohawk Superfund site remediation which began in 1990. From 1853 to the 1929, Saratoga Gas and Light and, later, New York Power and Light Company, used the property to manufacture gas to power street lights. A byproduct of that process, coal tar, was disposed of on the property at the corner of Excelsior and East Avenue and the ground became contaminated with compounds that were later discovered to be carcinogenic.
The site, now owned by National Grid, was declared a Superfund site in the 1990s and the first phase of the remediation, called OU-1, had five areas – the seven-acre parcel where the manufacturing plant had stood; two and a half acres where the former skating rink was located; an abandoned, underground brick storm sewer; several sections of Spring Run Creek; and a section of property once owned by Spa Steel.
In 1995, the EPA issued a Record of Decision and the cleanup of the property at the corner of Excelsior and East Avenue resulted in tons of contaminated soil being removed and a layer of blacktop, several feet thick, laid over the entire seven acre parcel.
But with public outcry at the total blacktopping of the original plant site, the EPA revised the cleanup of the remainder of the site, modifying the cleanup of the former skating rink property and a section of the abandoned storm sewer and agreed the historic brick Round House would be preserved.
This second phase of the cleanup, which is now in its public comment phase, involves one-half of an acre and, if the EPA goes the route they are suggesting, would involve digging up a portion of Excelsior, part of the parking lot of The Mill and the lands between Excelsior and High Rock, which contains Old Red Spring.
According to the EPA documents, soil samples were taken from 43 soil borings and installed 17 monitoring wells between 2008 and 2011. Maria Jon, remedial project manager for the EPA, said those tests revealed contamination of shallow aquifers and soil across approximately a half-acre area. The contamination does not flow any further south and does not contaminate the nearby stream.
Jon said that there are several actions the EPA can take which include no action at all, partial cleanup or total remediation of the contaminated soil.
The action they are leaning toward, she said, is a middle ground – Alternative 3A at a cost of $6.5 million and a construction time of six months.
Jon stressed that while the contamination does not pose any real threat to residents (unless they need to dig shallow wells for water;) they proposed partial removal of the contaminated soils and liquids and replace Old Red Spring piping to the aquifer in case it is “compromised” during the excavation.
“Keep in mind, right now there is no risk because the city receives their water from Loughberry Lake,” said Jon. “This risk to exposure is if one assumes if the existing water source did not exist. Contamination is not migrating beyond that area and it is not discharging into Spring Run Creek.”
“Contaminants migrated to this area via the top of the subsurface,” said Jon, noting that the silty clay layer that ranges from 15-feet to 24-feet below the surface acted at a confining agent, keeping the contaminates from reaching the aquifer which supplies the Old Red Spring.
The 3A alternative, said Jon, divides the project into two halves. One will remove the top five feet of contaminated soil below Excelsior Avenue – called in-situ soil stabilization (ISS) and install a containment barrier; and the second part would see the removal of the surface soils up to two feet below grade in the area not targeted by ISS; add organic nutrients, oxygen releasing compounds and chemical products to “enhance biodegradation” of the soil around Old Red Spring; and plugging and abandoning the existing Old Red Spring well and installing a replacement well.
Sal Badalamenti, an engineer with the EPA, said the existing gazebo would remain where it was.
“The pavilion will not be moved and it will all look the same,” said Badalamenti. “We plan to restore the area to its original condition.”
Among others, two other options offered by the EPA are to take no action at all and leave the existing contaminates where they are or total remediation at a cost of $10.8 million.
Those who spoke up at the public comment meeting seemed unconvinced the government needed to disrupt the city, the residents and the tourists for a cleanup that they admit is not harmful the way it is.
Tom Roohan, who owns The Mill property, said previous cleanups of the Superfund site, has created problems for both him and his tenants.
“What do I say to my tenants who don’t want to pay their rent because they can’t park?” asked Roohan. A portion of the parking lot would be disrupted for the cleanup. “We are concerned with contaminated water that is only 20 feet deep. We live in a municipality where shallow wells are not allowed – none of this contamination is moving around. It seems to me, personally, we are penalizing National Grid and it does not seem like a good use of money.”
Steve Lefebere, who identified himself as a licensed professional geologist, said the Red Spring Well is a historic site and was concerned about the capping of the original line.
“I feel you could take what measures are necessary to protect the well,” said Lefebere, noting that the aquifer it draws from has been protected from the contamination by the layer of clay.
Larisa Romanowski, community involvement coordinator, said that while the agency was presenting several options for the cleanup, they need the public to have a say in the process and would make a final decision after the public comment period closed the end of this month.
“The proposed cleanup plan was released in late February and the public comment runs until March 28,” said Romanowski. “We want the public’s input and comments can be done in a variety of ways – online or in writing.”
To date, the cleanup of the Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. Superfund site has been conducted and paid for by Niagara Mohawk and National Grid with oversight by the EPA.
For more information go to the website http://www.epa.gov/region2/superfund/npl/niagaramohawk