New England Log Homes site bioremediation begins
GREAT BARRINGTON -- For years, the New England Log Homes site on Bridge Street was the poster child for truly unlovely parcels of land.
Ugly, dark building hulks dotted the property, which was filled with puddles of unidentified, oily liquids and overgrown with grasses, weeds and invasive species.
After more than a decade and a half of demolition and cleanup, that is changing.
A trip down Bridge Street today reveals a flat, seven-acre parcel devoid of buildings or grass - still nowhere near pristine, but more promising.
And under the soil, the cleanup of dioxins and PCBs has begun.
With the help of a fairly new bioremediation process, state and local officials hope the site could be cleaned up by the fall, and this once seven-acre blight in town could be ready, pending approval of the proper town boards, for redevelopment by the spring, according to Timothy Geller, executive director of the Community Development Corp. of Southern Berkshire.
Officials envision a mixed-use commercial and residential development on the site, Geller said, as well as recreation space.
The timing may sound a little ambitious. But the bioremediation process is cheaper -- and faster than so-called traditional cleanup processes like capping or removing contaminated soil.
"It's an elegantly simple process," said Christopher Young, chairman of Biotech Restoration of Charlotte, N.C., which specializes in finding environmental solutions to industrial cleanup processes.
In the case of the Log Homes site, Young said, the indigenous bacteria on the site, with the help of an additional protein, breaks down the dioxins and PCBs on the seven-acre property.
The advantages are obvious. In addition to avoiding expending large sums of time and money to cap the site, the bacteria do their work with a minimum of disruption.
Although the technology is relatively new, Geller was quick to point out that the eventual decision to go in this direction was not made quickly.
"Two years ago, we had approval from the state to cap the site," he said. Capping the site effectively takes the human exposure off the table, he said.
"But I think the problem is that it covers up the problem," he said. "It doesn't really address it."
At the time, Geller said,
it seemed to be the best alternative.
But Geller credits Timothy Gray, a Lee environmental activist and executive director of the Housatonic River Initiative, with pointing him in Young's direction. Geller attended a local presentation Young was making in 2012 and was greatly interested.
As a test, Biotech Restorations applied its process to a portion of the most contaminated sector of the Log Homes property. After only 12 weeks, Geller said, the reduction in contaminants was between 97 and 100 percent.
"The test was," said Geller, "the basis for our decision to go in this direction."
This type of remediation, he said, "preserves the property for future generations."
The full process will take about 16 weeks, Young said. The cost is expected to be around $2 million, to be paid for by a MassDevelopment grant. Young estimated that capping or removing the contaminated soil would have been an eight-figure endeavor.
Geller began dealing with the Log Homes site 11 years ago. The site itself has been deserted since 1991, when the company went out of business, A fire ripped through the property in 2001, further degrading the parcel.
The CDC acquired control of the site in 2007. Geller pointed out that massive coalition of state, federal and local sources helped to get the site to where it is today.
"The one continuous factor in this project is that everyone has been on the same page from the beginning," he said. "Everyone wants to see the site developed."
Asked if there was never a time when he believed the site would not be developed, Geller sat back in his chair and smiled.
"I never think that way," he said.
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