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The future of the Cell House site explored

March 04, 2009
BERLIN — By 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency aims to have rehabilitated the Cell House site, also known as the Chlor-Alkali Superfund Site.

The site was the location of chemical production (chlorine, hydrogen), produced using electrolytic cells in "cell houses" on the property. The chlorine was then used to manufacture paper. Improper disposal of wastes from this production process is the source of the contamination on the site.

In 2005, the EPA listed the site on the National Priorities List of Superfund sites, and is now in the initial stage of planning for the site's cleanup.

Initial stages began in 2007, with developing a set of reuse goals for the property, based on the input of a committee of community members. These included city officials, city administrators, and representatives from the Planning Board, Main Street Program, and the Northern Forest Heritage Park.

With a set of community goals in mind (increase green space and pedestrian connections, create jobs, promote a diversity of uses, and compliment downtown), the committee narrowed a list of nine potential site uses (Industrial, Commercial, Residential, Recreational, for example), to three recommendations: to limit residential uses, support flexible commercial land uses, and to connect to a multi-use recreational trail system.

While the EPA moves forward with the remedial investigation and cleanup, the goals set by this committee could direct short-term actions. If the ultimate uses would be for mixed commercial development and recreational uses, then steps should be made towards securing public access to the landlocked parcel, developing a trails strategy, and also consideration of ownership of the property (since a 2002 bankruptcy order left the property abandoned, the future ownership is uncertain).

Meanwhile, the remedial investigation and feasibility study are expected to be completed in 2012. During the investigation, the EPA will be trying to find out sources of mercury. Darryl Luce, EPA project manager for the site, estimates that there could be 600-1,000 tons of mercury accumulated in the site, over the lifetime of the operation. The cleanup of the property will be paid for and carried out by the EPA.

The Mayor and Council seemed most concerned with the level of cleanup the site might see, given that the set of recommendations did not include residential areas. "Will there be less cleanup done as a result of it?" asked City Manager Pat MacQueen.

"We decided to go with what's reasonable, and most likely to happen," said City Planner Pam Laflamme, who sat on the committee. With plans for the riverwalk, it was reasonable to emphasize recreational use rather than a "day care."

Mayor David Bertrand was optimistic about the variety of uses that could come out of the contaminated field. "If that can be developed, then I think it's a fair assumption that the rest of the parcel could be developed for mixed use as well."

Martin Lord Osman
Tilton School
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