Cleanup will soon begin at former Watertown coal-gas plant
Source: https://www.watertowndailytimes.com, March 30, 2019
By: Craig Fox
After being in a holding pattern for 27 years, cleanup will begin next month on a 1.9-acre contaminated site of a former Niagara Mohawk manufactured gas plant on Engine Street.
To be finished over three phases, the comprehensive cleanup to rid the site of contamination left by a coal-gas plant that ended operation in the 1950s will cost $18 million.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has announced that the first phase of the environmental remediation is set to begin in April and take about six months to complete.
National Grid, then known as NiMo, will pay for the cleanup at a vacant, fenced-in site that it owns.
In 1992, NiMo was directed by DEC to look for and clean up hazardous materials at the Engine Street site and 20 other former coal-gas plants statewide it once owned.
City officials are aware that the cleanup will begin soon and knew about the remediation plans for years.
“It’s certainly an important site because it’s near the Black River,” said Michael A. Lumbis, the city’s director of planning and community development.
National Grid will complete the project, with DEC oversight. The project’s goal is to achieve cleanup levels that protect public health and the environment, according to a DEC fact sheet.
The Watertown Gas and Light Company, the site’s original owner, constructed the coal-gas plant in 1905 and it was operated by various companies until the 1950s. Those companies were then consolidated into NiMo.
The plant produced manufactured gas using coal gasification and carbureted water gas processes, which led to the site being contaminated by its by-product, coal tar, an oily tar-like material commonly found at former MGP sites.
A series of related volatile organic compounds, including benzene, toluene, cyanide and ethylbenzene, also was found. They are considered carcinogens.
Key components of the initial cleanup include:
■ Removing contaminated soil down to the bedrock and disposing it off-site.
■ Cleaning the bedrock surface.
■ Bringing in clean soil to the site.
■ Installing a cover system that consists of a delineation layer and one foot of crushed stone.
Air monitoring and dust and odor tests will be completed during the project to protect on-site workers and surrounding residents.
The first phase will address areas east of the CSX-owned railroad right-of-way and south of the city’s sanitary sewer utility easement.
Phase two of the project is slated for spring of next year and the final phase in 2021. Future phases of the remedial activities will address areas east of the railroad right-of-way and north of the city’s sanitary sewer easement.
Once completed, National Grid will prepare a final engineering report detailing the work.
Mr. Lumbis assumes that National Grid will want to own the property after the remediation is finished. But a portion of it near the river would be ideal for expanding the city’s hiking trail system, he said.
He recalled the city’s river committee approached the state in 2007 about those kinds of plans during the public comments portion of the DEC process.
Dr. Jason White, chairman of the Advantage Watertown committee, has done a lot of research about trying to make it happen.
“We’d like to see the highest and best use,” Dr. White said, adding that he’ll continue to talk to state officials about transforming it into a trail.
DEC officials are distributing fact sheets about the remediation project.
To learn more:
The fact sheet is available by entering the state’s data base at Site ID 623011
They are also available at the Flower Memorial Library, 229 Washington St.