Brownfield grant to fund first phase of former New Ipswich highway garage assessment

By ASHLEY SAARI

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 05-03-2023 1:44 PM

An unused town property has been approved for the Southwest Region Planning Commission’s Brownfield Assessment Program, in an attempt to identify potential hazards that might stand in the way of future development prospects.

A brownfield property is one that is identified as a property, usually abandoned, idle or underutilized, where the development could be complicated by the presence or the potential presence of contaminants from previous uses.

The town has previously had success with cleaning up and redeveloping brownfield sites, including the former Seppala & Aho construction company property, which was remediated and its buildings repurposed into the town offices, Highway Department and formerly the Police Department.

The property the town has currently turned its eye to, located at 497 Turnpike Road, is about an acre-and-a-half, and includes a cinder block garage building owned by the town. The building was once used as a public works garage and salt shed, housed Municipal Electric Light in the 1950s and is now empty.

The town has been interested in selling the property or reusing the building, including floating the idea of renovating it for use as a town community center. It approached the Southwest Region Planning Commission with interest in both technical assistance to review the property and visioning exercises to determine the best use of the property.

The Southwest Region Planning Commission surveyed the site with Town Administrator Debbie Deaton to determine if it was a fit site for a brownfield assessment, and has determined it does qualify for the program.

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“Given the past uses of the site, which included an electric company and a garage that once included fuel pumps and underground storage tanks, and a salt shed, an environmental assessment would help the town prepare for the land’s future use,” a report on a review of the property by SWRPC reads.

Since 2003, the Southwest Region Planning Commission has managed the program to help towns in the southwest portion of the state turn brownfield sites into community assets. The program is funded by federal brownfield assessment grants, but is implemented by SWRPC staff. Since its inception, the SWRPC has helped distribute more than $2.5 million in grants to communities to assess and clean up petroleum and other hazardous substances.

The town is also investigating the neighboring property, owned by Paul and Lee Somero, which may have contaminants from town activity, including old town equipment, wood and iron, tires, barrels and iron railings that were or still are located along the property boundary. When the property was sold, the deed stated that the town agreed to restore the property to its former state by removing all town-related debris.

Southwest Region Planning Commission has approved the sites for the first phase of investigation, and has selected Ransom Consulting to complete the assessment for an anticipated cost of about $4,500, which will be paid for through Southwest’s Brownfield Assessment Program.

The first phase includes information gathering on the sites’ history, an observation of the current conditions, a review of the records and interviews with individuals who have knowledge of the sites, creation of a site plan and topographic map and a list of potential environmental threats.

The initial assessment is expected to take about five weeks.

While reviewing the proposal during the New Ipswich Select Board meeting Tuesday, Selectman Jason Somero questioned whether the assessment would include any soil or water testing.

Deaton clarified that at this stage, they were gathering information, and the Southwest Region Planning Commission would have to make further determinations whether to continue to investigate the site, based on Ransom Consulting’s initial findings. At this point, the town has only been approved funding to complete the first phase.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-924-7172, Ext. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.

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