Dalton offered 'brownfields' help with tainted sawmill site

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DALTON — The town of Dalton won't have to go it alone as it plumbs the extent of pollution at a former sawmill — at least not yet.

The Berkshire Brownfields Committee will allow Dalton to pull from an existing pool of money to send a contamination expert to the former Bardin farm property north of Route 9 near the Windsor line.

That's the first step outlined in an Aug. 2 letter from the state Department of Environmental Protection. But more detailed studies may follow, complicating the town's wish to consider the site for a park and playing fields.

Kenneth Walto, Dalton's town manager, said the DEP letter spelled out more formal actions than he expected, based on conversations during the agency's July 13 visit to the property.

Still, Walto said he anticipated the need for the first action the DEP recommends — sending a consultant to examine the site but not yet take soil or water samples.

To get help with that task, Town Planner Becky Slick shared information with the brownfields committee overseen by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.

That panel agreed Wednesday, the day before the DEP letter was received, to set aside money for work at the 9.5-acre Dalton tract, which the town acquired in 2014 for non-payment of taxes. Before being sold to the Bardin family in 1989, the property was owned by the Harrison family and was home to Dalton Hardwoods; that business is now located across the town line in Windsor.

"Brownfields" is a term used to describe properties polluted by past uses. Limited state and federal funding is available to deal with pollution that keeps a municipally owned property from finding a new use.

Melissa Provencher, who runs the commission's environment and energy program, said she will check with the DEP to be sure the Dalton work is eligible for brownfields assistance, then ask a consult with TRC Environmental Corp. to conduct an initial report.

"When the Phase I report is completed, we will work with the town to determine next steps," said Provencher, the commission's brownfields specialist.

That report does not include testing for pollutants in soil or groundwater, but those samples may be required later.

The DEP letter notes that after visiting the property and reviewing records, agency staff determined that the property may contain reportable amounts of oil or other hazardous materials based on its use as a sawmill roughly from 1950 to 1990.

"Based on this information, the Department has reason to believe that the subject property, or portions thereof, may be a disposal site and may require response actions," wrote Eva V. Tor, the agency's deputy regional director in the Bureau of Waste Site Cleanup.

Though it recommends only an initial review by a licensed site professional — the term used for the environmental consultant — other work could lie ahead.

The scope and cost of any future cleanup will depend on what is found. The cost of legally required cleanups falls to the property owner under state law, according to the DEP. The agency offers assistance, though, especially when cities and towns hope to clear contaminated sites.

During their July visit, DEP staff observed evidence of "historic oil leakage" and noted the presence of an abandoned underground storage tank beside a garage.

The agency says the town is obligated by law to remove the tank and check for signs of contamination from leaks. Such a finding can trigger a stepped-up response with required reports to the DEP, Tor said.

"Site conditions posing a potential imminent hazard require notification to the Department [within] two hours of obtaining knowledge," Tor wrote. "Based on the historic usage of the property, it is likely that further assessment and response actions may be required."

If she is right, Dalton would be compelled to do a more comprehensive review of pollution — chasing what Tor called "a full determination of contamination in all environmental media and completion of a site risk characterization."

Catherine V. Skiba of the DEP's Western Regional Office in Springfield said earlier that the agency got involved after it was contacted about what she termed "past activities of concern at the Dalton property."

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.


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