Tax credit sought for economic development at Elite site

After more than a decade of clean up efforts, town officials looking for new use of former dry cleaning property

  • Cleanup continues at the former Elite Laundry site on Peterborough Street in Jaffrey.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
  • Cleanup continues at the former Elite Laundry site on Peterborough Street in Jaffrey.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
  • Cleanup continues at the former Elite Laundry site on Peterborough Street in Jaffrey.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
  • Cleanup continues at the former Elite Laundry site on Peterborough Street in Jaffrey.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

Tucked to the side and behind an old apartment building on Peterborough Street is about an acre of what town officials say is prime commercial property they acquired nearly a decade ago in default of back taxes and now want to sell. But public perception among those who know the troubled history of the former Elite Laundry site may be a barrier to its future development. Through accreditation in a state tax incentive program, town officials say they hope to provide prospective business owners with an incentive to build anew and in turn make the property more viable.

In addition to a $600,000 grant the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded the town in 2009 for groundwater cleanup at the site, the town received a $200,000 grant through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act one year later for the same purpose. The town has a $120,000 match commitment to the EPA grant, and has so far spent about $90,000, according to Jo Anne Carr, Jaffrey’s director of planning and economic development. DES also funded some site investigation work totaling $187,166. By next year, the total cost of site cleanup since 2009 will exceed $1 million.

Twelve years after a fire at the former laundry and dry cleaning facility revealed soil and groundwater contamination, cleanup efforts are ongoing and could continue for at least another decade. While Jaffrey and state officials agree there is no immediate health risk to nearby homeowners and businesses — who all use the public water supply — and that site conditions are improving , the town is doing all it can to emphasize the property’s future development potential so that it doesn’t sit dormant in the years ahead, Carr said.

The town acquired the Elite site, made up of four lots, in October 2004 in default of back taxes owed by Elite Laundry, Inc., going back to 1996. The company was owned by Robert E. Bussiere of Jaffrey, whose father had started the dry cleaning portion of the laundry business in 1946 and who had himself owned the family company from 1960 until it went bankrupt. The contamination at the site and adjacent properties was discovered following a 2001 fire, and the chemical in the soil was determined to be tetrachloroethene, a dry-cleaning agent known to cause cancer and/or liver failure. Commercial dry cleaning and laundry operations had taken place at the site between 1937 and 1997. But state officials say there are currently no immediate health concerns associated with the property, thanks to a decade’s worth of clean up efforts.

Between the months of June and November 2002, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency removed 1,018 tons of contaminated soil from the site, including from land that abuts the town’s rail trail, according to an EPA press release issued in June 2008. The extent of groundwater contamination is projected to be about 15 acres. The site is a former Superfund site, meaning the EPA is directly involved in site assessments and the establishment of an appropriate long-term clean up plan.

While one’s initial instinct may be that contaminated properties can’t be revitalized, Michael McCluskey, project manager at the N.H. Department of Environmental Services Hazardous Waste Remediation Bureau, said Wednesday that reuse of such sites, often for commercial purposes, is encouraged over new development on untouched green spaces. In the best of circumstances, McCluskey said, he has seen new businesses develop on former contaminated sites and provide a needed economic boost in the heart of a municipality’s downtown.

“Often when you have a contaminated property, just perception alone can affect property values,” McCluskey said. “But we see that once sites have been cleaned up and businesses move in that becomes less and less of a concern, and [the negative] perception begins to fade. Surrounding property values can and do recover.”

In Peterborough, the former Wilder thermometer factory on Hunt Road — now a residential area — was converted into Wilder-Rotary Park in 2011, after the town of Peterborough, which owns the land, provided labor and equipment for a project funded by DES and the EPA that removed all traces of mercury contamination at the site alongside the Contoocook River. In June 2008, the EPA had tested four soil samples from the property, which confirmed the presence of elevated mercury levels in the soil at that time.

At a July 22 Jaffrey Select Board meeting, the board unanimously approved Carr’s recommendation to move forward with an application to the state for an economic revitalization zone designation for the former Elite Laundry site. New Hampshire’s Economic Revitalization Tax Credit Program is a short-term tax credit against the business profits and enterprise taxes. The total amount of the credit is $200,000 over five years for a site that has to met certain criteria to qualify. Once the municipality receives authorization from the state for use of the credits at the property in question, a business must apply for the actual tax credit.

Carr told the Select Board that the former Elite site qualifies because it is a Brownfields site, meaning its reuse or redevelopment is complicated by the presence of hazardous pollutants as defined under the federal Brownfields Revitalization Act of 2002. DES’s Brownsfields program is primarily funded by an annual U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Brownfields State Response Program Grant, according to the state’s website.

The town of Jaffrey has three other economic revitalization zones, including the former W.W. Cross Building on Webster Street. In addition to Brownfields sites, unused or underutilized industrial parks, vacant land, or structures previously used for commercial, retail, or industrial purposes can qualify for Economic Revitalization Tax Credit.

Although the town has not yet marketed the Elite site to desired business markets, Select Board member Kathy Batchelder said Wednesday that the board and Carr have discussed ideas for development in recent years, with many favoring a mixed-use, residential and commercial property. Economic development is a priority, Batchelder said, especially given the years of town time and labor invested in restoring the site.

“A restaurant, or a small grocery store or market of some kind with a bakery could be great,” Batchelder said. “We want to be creative and address a business need in town.”

And development may not be that far away, Carr said. Town officials are looking at redevelopment as early as 2014, after Town Meeting when voters will be asked to endorse the Select Board’s proposed business concept plan for the property. “The town owns the property, so we cannot sell it without [voter] permission,” she said.

When development does come to the Elite site, McCluskey said he advises that special monitors to detect tetrachloroethene be installed in the newly erected structures, in addition to special ventilation, to protect employees and residents of any future buildings at the site. He explained that contaminated soil vapors can migrate to indoor air beneath both commercial and residential buildings, and can be inhaled by people.

“Under the current conditions, I’d say that day cares and schools are probably not the best use for the property,” McCluskey said, explaining that there are always health risks associated with little kids playing in the soil on a formerly contaminated property . “But I can’t think of anything that would be prohibited from being built there.”

In recent years, he said the state has seen progress with respect to declining concentration levels of tetrachloroethene in the groundwater at and near the Elite site. While it will take many, many years before the water is of drinking standard, McCluskey said people living in homes adjacent to the site are connected to the public water supply and should not fear adverse health effects.

A couple of years ago, McCluskey said DES collected samples of indoor air quality at residences on Peterborough Street, from the Elite site to Belletetes’ hardware store, and on Cross Street, and overall the results were not worrisome. Keith Dubois of DES told the Ledger-Transcript in 2009 that DES had found only one home, 22 Cross St., with concentration levels of tetrachloroethene in the air that sparked concern. However, Dubois said, there was no determination that those vapors emitted from groundwater were connected to the contamination at the Elite site.

Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228 or adandrea@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @alyssadandrea.

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