March 25. 2018 12:19AM

Environmental concerns delay Merrimack apartment project

Union Leader Correspondent

Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics in Merrimack (UNION LEADER FILE PHOTO)

MERRIMACK - The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services has asked John J. Flatley Co. to postpone breaking ground on an apartment project until additional environmental testing is done on the site located next to Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics.

"We told them that they cannot go forward. They do have all the property permits - they have done everything they are supposed to do. But with the discovery of these contaminants at the (Saint-Gobain) facility next door, we have asked for additional sampling," said Clark Freise, assistant commissioner of DES.

Once complete the entire Flatley project will convert nearly 150 acres of land into 240 apartments, 300,000 square feet of retail space and 120,000 square feet of industrial space adjacent to Saint-Gobain along the Daniel Webster Highway.

The future retail space will require its own individual site plans and additional approval from the planning board.

Five residential buildings to accommodate 240 one- and two-bedroom garden-style rental apartments, a pool, tennis courts and clubhouse are included in the plans, although the first phase of construction includes only four residential buildings.

Freise said he recently met with Kevin Walker of the Flatley Co. to discuss his concerns. A first round of soil sampling was conducted on the Flatley property, and contamination levels were significantly lower than expected, said Freise.

"They have given us access to monitoring wells," he said, adding additional samples should be collected this week.

"They will not dig anything up until we have those results," Freise said Wednesday during a public meeting in Litchfield addressing a newly signed consent decree between DES and Saint-Gobain in light of water contamination discovered about two years ago in the vicinity of Saint-Gobain's Merrimack plant.

Last fall DES sent a letter to the Flatley Co. expressing its concern about the impending development "without having fully assessed the potential for recognized environmental conditions at the site."

The property where the apartments will be constructed was previously owned by the ChemFab Corp.

In its letter, DES urged Flatley to gather more information to assess environmental conditions on the property such as soil quality and worker safety issues, groundwater quality and construction dewatering management, post-development stormwater management and the need for engineering and institutional controls to ensure that current and future residents are not exposed to contamination.

The planning board previously discussed the option of sending Flatley a similar letter echoing concerns from DES, but ultimately voted against it.

"I really think we are going overboard on this one. ... I am not convinced that the PFOA, PFAS thing is as serious as a lot of other things that are probably lurking in our water supply," Alastair Millns, planning board member, said at the time.

"This is a controversial subject," said Tom Koenig, town councilor, adding although Merrimack's PFOA levels are elevated compared to national levels, he said he was concerned about raising unnecessary red flags.

Robert Best, chairman of the planning board, said the board does not have environmental regulations built into its processes, nor does it have a mechanism to withdraw a previously granted approval.

Still, he said if children may be playing in the dirt at the site, it could warrant a letter urging Flatley to be a responsible property owner.