SALEM, N.H — The former wastewater treatment plant — a contaminated eyesore for decades — is a step closer to being cleaned-up after recent action from selectmen.

The board unanimously authorized spending up to $1.5 million of designated sewer funds for foundation and soil remediation at the SARL Road site. The vote was backed by Finance Director Nicole McGee and Director of Municipal Services Roy Sorensen.

Sorensen explained that amount is enough to demolish the basement after pumping out contaminated water, pulling piping and removing mechanical equipment that remains inside. Additional funding requiring voter approval will be needed for soil remediation, he said.

Salem officials have known about contamination at the site since 1986, when the wastewater treatment plant could no longer handle demand after 22 years, and a construction team was brought in to connect the system to a regional plant, according to town records.

Workers were said to have discovered a burial disposal pit with black sludge and noxious fumes.

An environmental engineering team hired by the town the following year believed the "hot spot" resulted from years of illegal septic dumping and industrial waste, but could not be certain.

Stop-and-go efforts to resolve the problem have now spanned 34 years.

Most recently, in 2017, the contamination remained within the building's footprint but still seeped about 40 feet into the earth and contaminated the groundwater, according to James Wieck of GZA GeoEnvironmental. Testing showed the water levels were still safe, he said at the time.

The final assessment of the soil contamination and remediation was to be determined later, with all work completed by the end of 2018, officials said then.

Recently, Sorensen said the lowest bidder has been selected and, depending on the weather through the end of this year, the first leg of work could be done before spring.

The finance director said water and sewer account balances are recorded at the end of each calendar year, the latest being Dec. 31, 2019. The account had $2.5 million then, she said. 

The last time a payment was authorized from the fund was in 2018, McGee said, when it was used to make improvements to one of the town's pumping stations.

McGee said the town intends to use the account to also pay the loan amounts from the Route 28 sewer pipe extension project. That loan, however, has not been finalized.

 

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