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Persistence pays off as DES considers 100 percent coal-tar removal


October 20, 2010
Gilford selectmen have long pushed for complete coal-tar removal on the Lower Liberty Hill Road site, and now it looks as though the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services will stand behind these efforts.

National Grid submitted its remedial action alternative plan to DES in August of last year. Officials recently announced that the plan did not meet all criteria, which led to their preliminary decision to accept 100 percent removal.

Full removal of impacted soil at the site, referred to as RAA1, has been fully supported by the Gilford Board of Selectmen, as well as residents affected by the site who are struggling with a decrease in their property values and worried about health risks.

While the 80 percent removal plan may have cost less in the end, the town has said $16 million for full removal would be worth the money to protect the well being of residents.

About 16 residential properties on Liberty Hill Road, and their property values, are currently affected by the site.

Linda Trask of Liberty Hill Road said she and her husband Michael have been active in the fight for full cleanup removal. She said that the value of her property has decreased directly due to the potential impact of the nearby coal tar and the undrinkable water.

When Trask heard about DES's preliminary decision, she was pleased and said she and her husband plan to attend the public hearing when it is announced to voice their opinions, just as they have at all other meetings.

"For us, we would be very happy to see it accepted. We have been encouraging doing this all along. I hope they actually have to remove it all," said Trask.

While she and her husband do not plan on moving anytime soon, Trask said she realizes she is getting older and the thought of selling her property pops up from time to time. Without full removal, she was certain this task would be difficult.

"Our property value has been affected. Say we wanted to sell it; the site would have to be taken into consideration. This is why we hope they will have to remove it. It may only be a 150 foot impact from our property," she said.

If the full amount of impacted soil is removed, Trask said she believed her property value would return to its initial value.

"DES knows we want full removal and that individuals involved feel that partial removal would not solve the problem; it could pass down to other generations," said Trask. "Who would monitor the remaining 20 percent of it was not removed?"

Trask said she felt that DES's preliminary decision is linked to the Gilford selectmen's support over the years.

Director of the Waste Management Division at DES, Michael Wimsatt, said the most recent 80 percent removal plan by National Grid was not approvable for two reasons: the plan proposed did not meet a remedy to minimize the need for long term monitoring, and also did not meet the management requirements and would have resulted in more modification remedies overtime.

Wimsatt said DES's decision is still considered preliminary.

"After looking more closely at the plans, we are looking to schedule a public meeting sometime in November," said Wimsatt. "This is a good example of public participation. The town also hired consultants of their own. We had some dialogue with the public and it was clear that the folks in Gilford were not very happy (with 80 percent removal plans). We thought, better to defer the decision and to try out testing first."

Selectman Gus Benavides, who has been closely involved with and behind 100 percent removal the past three years, said he was excited to hear the news after attending endless hearings and even meeting with Gov. John Lynch to fully inform him of the ongoing issue.

Benavides said he believed that the general public's opinions did prompt DES's preliminary decision in the end.

"The public came out and sent the message that they were serious about this. Having a hydrologist and an environmental lawyer really helped," said Benavides. "We need to push the decision today since it will affect generations to come; it's why we fought for this. We are hoping when they have the hearing that people will come out (and voice their support) in going forward with 100 percent removal."

The 80 percent removal plan proposed by National Grid included an excavation of all soil to three feet and all tar saturated soil below three feet. Remaining soil offsite would be treated by thermal desorption and tar impacted soil below three feet would be contained using a slurry wall and an impermeable cap. Remaining soil offsite, although treated, was still a concern of many.

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