By Alex Lippa
---- — PLAISTOW — Nearly a decade after it was declared a Superfund site, real progress is finally being made at the former Beede Waste Oil property on Kelley Road.
Thousands of gallons of oil were dumped at the 40-acre site for decades, dating back to 1920.
The site was closed in 1994 and declared a Superfund site in 1996. But progress to clean up the contamination and provide 22 households with clean water has been agonizingly slow.
The Beede Group, the companies deemed responsible for the pollution, is footing the cleanup bill. The group includes Exxon, Sears, Cumberland Farms and many more companies. The federal Environmental Protection Agency is overseeing the work.
Residents will soon be able to turn on their faucets and get clean water, something they haven’t had for years. But, by the end of next week, all 22 households should have clean tap water.
Water, which will be supplied by Pennichuck Water Works, will be piped in from a well on Culver Street to homes whose wells were contaminated on Culver Street, Main Street, Kelly Road, Shady Lane and part of Walton Road.
“This is a milestone for the project,” said Greg Howard, spokesman for the Beede Group. “Finally, these people will be getting clean water for their taps.”
Town Manager Sean Fitzgerald agreed.
“This public water option is a huge improvement in terms of how we’re managing this important responsibility,” he said
Jean Banaski lives at 16 Shady Lane. Although her home is not one of those affected, she is happy to see her neighbors getting clean water.
“I know I would want it done at my house,” Banaski said. “I’m glad they’re finally cleaning it.”
But that’s just one step in an estimated $45 million cleanup plan. The next step in the cleanup is completing a groundwater treatment system.
“Just like a town has to treat their water when they have a well, we are doing the same thing,” said Mike Skinner, project coordinator for the Beede Group. “We will start pumping groundwater, treating it and then putting it back in the ground as clean.”
A treatment plant is under construction at the site and Skinner said he hopes to have the system in place by the end of the year.
But even once that’s done, he said, cleaning the groundwater could take up to 20 years.
Then there’s the soil.
Contaminants will be removed from deep soil by heating and removing the vapors. That process is in the design phase. The plan calls for starting soil removal in April, with a target completion date by the end of next year. Approximately 75,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil will be removed.
“We are the cleanup people, not the polluter,” Howard said. “There is some overlap, but people were doing what they were told and this is the result. Somebody has to be responsible for cleaning it and that’s what we are doing.”
The contaminated soil will be trucked off the site. But even agreeing to the access route for those trucks was a contentious and drawn-out process.
An access road was built off Main Street between Shady Lane and Kelley Road. A traffic light was installed there just two weeks ago.
Skinner hopes to have the soil completely clean by 2017, but admits there are many unknown factors.
“The thermal is a relatively new technology,” he said. “You can have all the schedules you want, but once you get into the ground, you’re relying on nature.”
Fitzgerald said he remained “guardedly optimistic” about the plans made by the Beede Group.
“Plaistow has paid a very dear price for the destruction of the environment and watershed in that sensitive area,” he said. “While we are excited and optimistic about the future, we are certainly focused on protecting the town’s rights and interests.”
After the project is completed, Skinner said, the site would be clean enough for homes to be built on it.
“In the end, it will meet residential standards,” he said. “I wouldn’t recommend it because I don’t know what the property values will be like, but this is what the town has zoned it as.”
Plaistow received a $99,000 grant from the EPA to plan for reuse of the property. In a reuse report in 2003, suggestions for future uses included playing fields, recreational trails or a cemetery.
The town and the Beede group have been battling about unpaid taxes for many years. The group has not paid more than $1 million in taxes on the property for more than 20 years.
“The group is working with the town on an abatement process,” Skinner said. “The issue with the past taxes is still up in the air.”
Skinner said lack of communication with residents has been a problem. The group has recently set up a Facebook page, “Beede Cleanup,” which offers construction updates and photos of the progress.