$200,000 EPA grant will help turn former Hoosac Valley Coal and Grain site into park

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ADAMS — The deteriorating former Hoosac Valley Coal and Grain Site at 1 Cook St. is on its way to becoming a public park.

The town is set to receive $200,000 in brownfields cleanup grant funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to remove contaminants from the site.

"Without the cleanup grant, we wouldn't be able to really move forward with constructing the park," said Donna Cesan, interim town administrator and community development director. "It's really critical for us."

The one-acre site was formerly used as a storage and retail facility for coal, grain, wood and hay, according to a press release from the EPA. It also functioned as a fuel distributor from the 1950s until 1982.

The site is contaminated with petroleum, chlorinated solvents, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, metals and inorganic contaminants.

According to the EPA, brownfields are properties whose expansion, redevelopment or reuse may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants.

Many Berkshire communities have received brownfields-related assistance, including Williamstown, North Adams, Dalton, Lee, Pittsfield, Richmond, Washington and Becket, said Melissa Provencher, environmental and energy program manager for the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission who also runs the commission's Berkshire Brownfields Program.

It is estimated that there are about 450,000 brownfields in the U.S.

Hoosac Valley Coal and Grain operated at 1 Cook St. until 2012, and the site has been vacant ever since.

The town took the site about a year to a year and a half ago for back taxes, Cesan said.

The site, located immediately off Route 8, is a detriment to the surrounding residential area and the look of the town, she said.

"It doesn't really present a very positive image along such a busy [road]," she said. "It kind of contributes to a decayed atmosphere."

There are two buildings on the property; one smaller barn and a larger building that contains a two-and-a-half-story grain elevator.

The grain elevator in particular is a town landmark, as it was used many years ago to unload local farmers' grain and fertilizer.

The town hopes to preserve it going forward.

With the cleanup funding from the EPA, the town will be able to devote public funds to turning the site into a public park off of the recently-expanded Ashuwillticook Rail Trail.

Like the two other "pocket parks" in town, the site will be a gathering place and rest area off the trail, Cesan said.

An about-1.3 mile extension of the rail trail from Hoosac Street to Lime Street was completed last year. That extension abuts the former Hoosac Valley Coal and Grain Site, she said.

The extension of the nearby railroad tracks was also completed last year, and those tracks now run parallel to the site, she said.

Community Development Block Grant funding of $50,000 will be used to help design the park.

The town is also providing about $25,000 to hire an architect to help determine the possible uses of the grain elevator building, Cesan said.

The cleanup could ideally be complete by the end of this year, Cesan said. If not, she said she hopes it would be done by midsummer of 2019.

The cleanup is part of the town's efforts to eliminate blighted properties to develop tourism and make the community more attractive.

"One by one, we've been eliminating these blighted influences on the town," she said. "We need to make ourselves attractive for visitors, and certainly that also enhances quality of life for residents."

The town has long participated in the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission's brownfields program, through which it has received grant funding to assess contamination at other sites in town.

"It's not for the fainthearted," Cesan said of dealing with blighted properties. "[But] we've really shown terrific results."

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@berkshireeagle.com, at @BE_pleboeuf on Twitter and 413-496-6247.


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