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Nashua takes on tannery cleanup

Union Leader Correspondent

May 04. 2012 11:22PM

NASHUA - Cleanup efforts are under way at the abandoned former Mohawk Tannery site, which has become an eyesore after years of vandalism and suspicious fires.

The contaminated property, at the corner of Fairmount Street and Warsaw Avenue, has been deemed a Superfund site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency because of hazardous substances traveling into the Nashua River due to past disposal practices at the tannery.

Recently, city officials agreed to spend $185,000 to demolish the buildings located on the 30-acre tannery site in the northern party of the city.

A contractor has begun removing asbestos materials inside the buildings. The abatement work could take up to three weeks to complete, at which time air monitoring will be performed and contaminated materials will be taken to the Four Hills Landfill, according to a release posted on the city's website.

Robin Mongeon, state project manager with the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, said demolition of the buildings will begin once the abatement work is finished. Demolition is expected to be finished by the end of the month.

'The buildings are all dilapidated and in very bad shape. They have become a public nuisance,' said Mongeon.

Reports of parties and vandalism at the site are frequent, in addition to suspicious fires, with the most recent blaze just last month.

The Mohawk Tannery, or Granite State Leathers, operated at the site from 1924 to 1984, with a byproduct of sludge and acidic residues from the tanning process, much of which was disposed of on site, said Mongeon.

According to the EPA's website, wastewater containing hazardous substances such as chromium, zinc and phenol entered into the Nashua River because of the operations. Disposal areas located next to the river contain sludge with many other contaminants, according to the report. Those two lagoons have since been filled with soil, weeds and grass, said Mongeon.

'Analytical data from the former tannery property documents the presence of elevated levels of metals in groundwater, soil and in sediments within the Nashua River,' says the online report.

The site is proposed to be listed on the EPA's National Priorities List. He said that if the site became formally listed, the potential for federal dollars to clean up the site could possibly become available.

'There is a long history with this site … it is kind of a weird situation,' said Mongeon, explaining there were previous talks about a developer interested in acquiring the property, but that did not come to fruition because of the economy.

Mongeon said she has met with Mayor Donnalee Lozeau on several occasions to discuss the future of the site. There have been preliminary talks about building a pedestrian bridge from the southern portion of the property to Mine Falls Park, said Mongeon.

This summer, additional assessments will be conducted on the southern end of the Superfund site, which may not be ideal for development because of its wet topography, according to Mongeon.

Still, she said there is the possibility of separating the parcels and identifying the southern 15 acres as safe.

'The objective of this investigation is to collect sufficient soil, groundwater, surface water and sediment samples to determine what portion of the southern parcel, if not all, has been unimpacted by historical operations from the tannery,' says a release on the city's website. 'Those areas of the southern parcel that are not contaminated may then be proposed for removal from EPA's National Priorities List to which the entire 30-acre site was proposed in 2000.

'This will allow the EPA, DES and the city to focus efforts on the remaining contaminated areas in an attempt to eventually clean up and bring the site back into productive reuse,' says the release.

The property is privately owned by Warren Kean of Chester Realty Trust. It has been vacant since 2006.

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