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Town still unsatisfied with latest Liberty Hill plan

September 16, 2009
GEI Consultants, representing National Grid, presented a revised proposal for the removal of contaminated soil under Liberty Hill last week that would eliminate 80 percent of the coal tar not enough, say Gilford selectmen.

The remedial alternative addendum, known as RAA5, is the latest of several proposals to get rid of the contaminated materials buried under the site in the 1950s. Along with those before it, this proposal has not left the selectmen satisfied, as they have consistently demanded that 100 percent of the contaminated soil be removed for the safety of residents and their water supplies.

Board Chair Gus Benavides said the latest presentation by GEI and the Department of Environmental Services is not 100 percent satisfactory for residents, because there is still no plan for 100-percent coal-tar removal. Benavides said that National Grid and GEI claimed that they would save $6,000,000 by foregoing the board's favored plan, to remove all contaminated soils from the site, in order to avoid what could possibly happen with the 20 percent of left over contaminants.

"In my opinion, no people from the public were convinced with this plan, and no worries were put to rest. The board has been consistently vocal. One hundred percent removal has already been appropriated in our budget, and we hired a town attorney. We are determined," said Benavides, who has assured the public that the board was done their research and is not assuaged by GEI or National Grids claims that 80 percent removal is sufficient enough, and means a $6,000,000 difference.

"We are dealing with many years of contaminants. Our concern is, what could happen and what happens down the road with 20-percent removal. In the meantime, residents (on Liberty Hill) are constantly living in fear," said Benavides.

Michael McCluskey of DES said the modified version of RAA5 a still calls for 80 percent removal of the most contaminated soils saturated with coal-tar at the site, as well as a slurry wall and an impermeable cap to block contaminants from leaking into nearby brooks. After a meeting and a review with DES, National Grid plans to deepen the slurry wall and add a pumping system for the treatment of the groundwater in order to avoid further contamination.

McCluskey said DES reevaluated the initial plan in February of 2008, and the town hired attorney Jeff Meyers to monitor the project's progress and speak on behalf of the town, which at that time found the slurry wall, prior to the proposed pumping system, to be insufficient. After DES's review, it deferred acceptance of the first proposal and asked National Grid and GEI Consultants to work on modifying the RAA5.

"The contaminated material left behind would be contained in a slurry wall with a cap, and no pumping would be needed, but we added groundwater modeling (to the plan) as well to support long-term control of the remaining sources," McCluskey said. "We first proposed a soft wall, but water would come out from under the wall and contaminate the outside. We then proposed a deeper wall."

McCluskey said one of the town's concerns based on last week's meeting was whether the pumping system could eliminate contamination.

"The town encouraged us to hold off on the background work as well, and they had National Grid agree to this," McCludkey said. "We are now deferring the final decision. In short, the (first) presentation won't work."

GEI consultants and National Grid are still looking at the same process as their first proposed plan, but with the addition of pumping and treating groundwater, which still may not slide with the town considering the stagnant 80 percent removal.

While DES, GEI Consultants, and National Grid appear ready to go with their modified plan that could run between March and December at a cost estimated at about $10,924,529 by GEI, the Gilford Board of Selectmen is not ready to settle.

Benavides said that the remaining pollutants could contaminate Jewett Brook, and that this could later contaminant water throughout the town of Gilford as it spreads, or that someone could even get a crack in their well and up their chances for contamination in their own drinking water, or never be able to sell their property, said Benavides.

"From a financial standpoint, this has to be reduced or it is always going to be affecting taxpayers, but the priority is safety. The contamination could spread and affect other people," said Benavides.

On the bright side, Benavides said that the DES does plan to hire an independent analyst to calculate the exact cost and to see how accurate the numbers really are for each remedial plan since each proposal consists of so many elements.

After considering public input, the DES will make a preliminary decision within 30 days, and then issue a final decision with an opportunity for appeal. Once this decision has been concluded, a remedial design will be created and then actual remedial action will be taken on lower portion of Liberty Hill.

"Hopefully we will make a final decision. It has been a long, technical process, and a lot of people are getting anxious to get something done," said McCluskey.

Martin Lord Osman
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