Great Barrington brownfield finally gets a cleanup

Heavy equipment has rolled onto the site of an affordable and low-income housing complex in Great Barrington as remediation gets underway. Contaminated soil will be capped and monitored in perpetuity by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

GREAT BARRINGTON — The long-awaited cleanup of a toxic waste site downtown is underway to prepare the site for affordable and low-income housing units — and any other future projects on the property.

The Community Development Corp. of South Berkshire this month began cleaning up contaminated soil along Bridge Street and Bentley Avenue.

The work involves pushing the soil into 6-foot-high mounds, or "berms," that will be capped and sealed with an impervious material. Clean dirt will then be added to the 8-acre site, which will be monitored in perpetuity by state Department of Environmental Protection.

The corporation bought the site from a bank for $1 more than 20 years ago after a log homes kit manufacturer went bankrupt, leaving the site polluted with pentachlorophenol and dioxins from a preservative dip that leaked the chemicals into the soil. Numerous drums of chemicals were also found around the property, which borders the Housatonic River to the west.

The land sat blighted and overgrown, a 2001 fire gutted what remained of any structures, and the corporation set out to find a way to clean the site and develop it.

But cleanup costs and regulations proved daunting. Plans fell through, and the DEP shut down a bioremediation attempt in 2015.

But by 2018, funding for 44 units of affordable and low-income units on 2 acres of the site began to roll in, and construction of the $17.5 million project is set to begin after the cleanup.

While Timothy Geller, the corporation's executive director, isn't sure exactly when the remediation phase for the housing parcel will be completed, since weather is a factor, he said. Construction of the Bentley Apartments should begin in January, however, and cleanup of the northern end of the site will be finished in the spring.

Geller said the process is meticulous — it's not just a dirt-moving exercise.

"It's continuously testing dirt as you go," he said. "It's really surgical."

Sections are clearly defined and mapped on a three-dimensional GPS grid.

Then there is dust control to keep contaminated soil from leaving the site. This involves a spray of water and, after an area has been cleaned and tested, a spray of a product called Gorilla-Snot, a temporary sealant.

The complex will include one-, two- and three-bedroom units for households that make up to $49,000 per year.

Of those apartments, 21 will be for those who qualify for low-income housing and who make 30 percent of the area's median income. Those units could be as low as less than $650 per month for a one-bedroom unit.

Geller says the corporation is marketing the remaining 6 acres to companies that build and operated independent and assisted living facilities, but nothing is firm right now.

Heather Bellow can be reached at or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.