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City officials want toxic waste at tannery to be removed from site

Union Leader Correspondent

August 28. 2018 10:54PM
Rhiannon Robinson of the N.E.W. Nashua Civic Association and Alderman Tom Lopez speak Tuesday outside of the gated Mohawk Tannery Site where contamination cleanup efforts are about to begin. They are urging that all of the toxic waste is disposed of and taken off site. (Kimberly Houghton/Union Leader Correspondent)

NASHUA — Two city aldermen are calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its recommended alternative and do more to clean up the contaminated Mohawk Tannery site in the center of Nashua.

After considering different cleanup alternatives, the EPA is recommending a preferred alternative of encapsulation and impermeable capping instead of excavation and moving the contamination off site — a remedy that some believe is not a permanent solution.

“It is an illusion of security and a time bomb,” Alderman Tom Lopez, Ward 4, said of the EPA’s preferred alternative. “It will remain a concrete problem and not a concrete solution.”

The contaminated property was previously deemed to be leaking hazardous substances into the Nashua River due to past disposal practices at the tannery. The company, also known as Granite State Leathers, produced tanned hides for leather between 1924 and 1984.

Now, however, prospective buyer Bernie Plante is hoping to purchase the parcel to pursue a residential development. Plante recently declined to provide details to the New Hampshire Union Leader about his future plans for the property, saying it is premature since remediation efforts must first take precedence.

“This was left as a mess,” Lopez said of the 30-acre tannery site at the corner of Fairmount Street and Warsaw Avenue. “We know this is toxic. We know this is dangerous.”

Alderman Patricia Klee, Ward 3, said Tuesday during a gathering outside of the gated property that the public needs to be educated about the history of the site.

“People are becoming deaf to it,” said Klee, maintaining the preferred alternative to cap the contamination is too risky. “We can’t take that chance,” she stressed.

Plante has entered a purchase-and-sale agreement for the property, and is seriously committed to cleaning it up and developing the parcel. This provides an ideal opportunity for the city, EPA and developer to work together to clean the site, according to Woody Little, New Hampshire Community Organizer with Toxics Action Center.

“Nashua could buck that trend if these three parties take joint responsibility for a cleanup plan that moves all hazardous and toxic waste off site,” said Little.

Gerardo Millan-Ramos, remedial project manager with the EPA, said recently that the capping alternative is the least expensive option at an estimated price-tag of $8 million to $14.2 million. Excavating and moving materials off site would take about $32.6 million to complete, he said earlier.

“This has been going on for generations,” Rhiannon Robinson of the North-East-West Nashua Civic Association said of the contamination, stressing the need for a full site cleanup rather than shortcuts that could eventually make city families sick.

The remedial design has been carefully vetted and will include thorough oversight, Millan-Ramos reassured residents last month.

“There should be no releases to you,” he said at the time, adding the preferred alternative for cleanup would take up to 18 months.

Kelsey Dumville of the EPA said the ultimate goal of the cleanup is to protect human health.

“We are not going to put a cap on and run away,” she said recently.

The EPA is accepting public comments on the plan until Sept. 7. A neighborhood meeting is also being planned for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the local United Way office to discuss the matter.

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