Framingham reaches $500K settlement with Eversource over polluted site
Source: http://www.metrowestdailynews.com, December 20, 2017
By: Jim Haddadin
Utility provider Eversource will pay the town $500,000 to settle claims it failed to clean up a polluted Southside property it acquired nearly a decade ago.
Selectmen voted during a closed-door meeting Tuesday to accept the company’s settlement offer, which also requires Eversource to clean up lingering pollution at 350 Irving St.
The site, a former gas manufacturing plant, is contaminated with toxic coal tar and other chemicals. Eversource purchased it in 2008, paying a little more than $2 million to acquire it under a tax title payment agreement with the town.
Town Meeting members and selectmen agreed at the time to forgive about $460,000 worth of interest and penalties owed to the town to facilitate the cleanup.
The town contends Eversource failed to meet deadlines for the cleanup. The state Department of Environmental Protection also released a critical audit in 2015, calling on Eversource to further investigate the extent of the contamination. The DEP required Eversource to take additional soil, groundwater, sediment and surface water samples and assess potential risks.
Michael P. Durand, an Eversource spokesman, said the company is pleased with the board’s decision to accept the settlement and looks forward to “continuing to work closely with the town going forward.”
Later that year, the town pressed its claim that Eversource was in breach of its agreement, demanding to be repaid the interest and penalties it forgave several years earlier. With additional interest, the town claimed it was owed more than $1 million.
Eversource denied it had breached the 2008 tax title agreement, but offered in September to settle the town’s claims for $500,000. Selectmen voted in a non-public meeting Tuesday to accept the payment, which is due to be delivered to the town by the end of the year.
In exchange, the town agreed to drop its claims that Eversource failed to meet its obligations to clean up the property.
The deal makes clear that Eversource is still legally responsible for the cleanup work at its sole expense. The company agreed to “diligently” pursue remediation measures, and to keep the Board of Health apprised of all reports and documents it submits to the state regarding the cleanup work.
“This, I believe, is a favorable outcome,” Town Counsel Christopher Petrini said, “because it would have been challenging to prove all that was needed to recover the full amount that could be arguably said to have been due.”
Selectmen Chairwoman Cheryl Tully agreed, calling the town’s legal position “very complicated.” She thanked Treasurer Carolyn Lyons for helping calculate a reasonable figure to pursue from the utility company, taking into account compounding interest.
“This works out to be, I think, a very solid deal for Framingham without having to go to court,” Tully Stoll said.
The 22-acre site is currently occupied by Landscape Depot and several other businesses. It consists of two parcels owned by Eversource, as well as small portions of two adjacent parcels on Leland Street and approximately 1,100 feet of Beaver Dam Brook.
Contamination on the property includes arsenic, cyanide and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
Testing last year also detected elevated levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in surface soil in a limited portion of the southeast woodland.
Now banned in the United States, PCBs do not readily break down once in the environment, and have been shown to be potentially harmful to humans and animals.
The DEP first went after then-owner John Glynn in the 1980s to clean up coal tar and other contaminants. The agency later leaned on Eversource to finish the job after the property changed hands.
A consultant hired by Eversource last year determined the pollution doesn’t pose an immediate threat to workers or the public, though nine areas require cleanup work.
In its October 2016 report, GEI Consultants of Woburn wrote that there is no significant public safety risk at the site, but the potential for harm can’t be dismissed because coal tar remains a “nuisance condition.”
In particular, utility workers operating near the gas line and people trespassing in the undeveloped area in the southern portion of the site could be at risk, GEI concluded.
Workers at Wellesley Trucking, a company that redeveloped a portion of the site as a parking lot for trucks and storage containers, could also be harmed by exposure to contaminated soil, the company’s report states.
An audit released by the state this year disputed some of the consultants findings, however, determining the potential risk that residents living at 68 Leland could be exposed to contaminants cannot be ruled out.
The report also underestimated the potential risk to workers, who could be exposed to coal tar waste intermingled with the soil, the state found.