Wastewater treatment plant cleanup timeline set

PAUL BILODEAU/Staff file photoSalem is getting closer to cleaning up its contaminated sewage plant that has been closed for 30 years.

SALEM, N.H. — The town’s contaminated wastewater treatment plant, dormant now for three decades, could be remediated as early as December 2022, selectmen learned this week.

Current and former town officials have led lengthy discussions about cleaning the 32-acre SARL Drive site in order to sell it for development, but action has been inconsistent.

The project's price tag has steadily climbed in the meantime, with a grand total nearing $10 million based on current estimates.

Records show the town has paid $100,000 annually for nearly 30 years to monitor the site. The cost of demolition is $1.5 million and another $5 million is needed for cleanup costs.

Mike Dacey and Darrin Santos of GeoInsight, a consulting firm hired by the town out of Manchester, told selectmen Monday that crews are expected to remove a remaining foundation this week.

The project leaders outlined a thermal radiation plan to treat the soil next year. Salem voters will first be asked to approve funding at the March 2022 election.

Officials have known about contamination off Route 28 since 1986, when the wastewater treatment plant could no longer handle demand after 22 years. 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 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 they could not be certain.

Just as the damage was not done overnight, experts say the solution will also take time. Either the town or a possible buyer will need to monitor the site long-term, according to Dacey.

“It’s an aggressive cleanup goal,” Santos added.

The latest timeline calls for removal of interior paint laden with polychlorinated biphenyls, PCB-impacted piping, and asbestos abatement beginning this month. Structure demolition and excavation backfilling should be complete by October.

Next year, a crew would essentially boil off the contamination; heating the ground and pulling out vapors to be transported elsewhere for safe disposal.

The access road to the Salem Animal Rescue League will remain open during the work, however, the nonprofit shelter needs to find itself a new home.

Selectmen Monday night extended SARL’s lease for just two more years, not three as requested. When the abutting land is ready, the space SARL leases from the town is likely to be rolled into a sale.

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