2015-08-28 / Front Page

Site comes back clean

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


A model of the front entrance of South Portland's new Public Services Complex, prepared by SMRT Architects and Engineers, is designed to match the look of other city structures, particularly the community center on Nelson Road. (Courtesy photo) A model of the front entrance of South Portland's new Public Services Complex, prepared by SMRT Architects and Engineers, is designed to match the look of other city structures, particularly the community center on Nelson Road. (Courtesy photo) SOUTH PORTLAND — An environmental assessment of the public works facility on O’Neil Street in South Portland has come back clean, making it likely the site can be developed with residential housing when the city moves into its new public services garage off Highland Avenue.

“Right now it looks pretty promising. We’re pretty darn confident,” said Owens McCullough, vice president of engineering at Sebago Technics, which conducted testing for contaminants on the property. “What came back is that the sight is actually pretty clean. Even us, we were pretty pleased with what we were seeing.

“Most all of the numbers were below what you would expect to see for urban lands, even around the fuel tanks, where we had no hits at all in terms of any contamination,” McCollough said.


A concept drawing prepared by SMRT Architects and Engineers of the new South Portland Public Services Complex, slated to open at 929 Highland Ave. in about 18 months. Expected to cost $15.7 million, the building, which will combine the city's public works, parks and transportation departments under one roof, will feature concrete construction, with the rear garage made of metal. (Courtesy photo) A concept drawing prepared by SMRT Architects and Engineers of the new South Portland Public Services Complex, slated to open at 929 Highland Ave. in about 18 months. Expected to cost $15.7 million, the building, which will combine the city's public works, parks and transportation departments under one roof, will feature concrete construction, with the rear garage made of metal. (Courtesy photo) That news came as a great relief to many on the city council.

“I was very concerned for what we might find,” Mayor Linda Cohen said.

According to City Manager Jim Gailey, South Portland’s assessment of the 6-acre property, which has housed public works operations since the 1930s, at least, was done through the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s Voluntary Response Action Program.

Because South Portland is “self-reporting” the existence of any environmental contaminants, if the DEP approves the Sebago data and authorizes residential development of the site, it will issue a “letter of no action assurance.” That, McCollough said, would absolve both the city and any eventual developer from liability directly related to the land’s use as a public works garage.

McCollough said Sebago shipped off its final report last week and is now waiting for the DEP to sign off on the results, gleaned from tests of soil and groundwater in 18 subsurface geoprobes.

“We’ll probably know in three to four weeks,” McCullough said.

Although the DEP could order additional testing, or even ban homes from being built on the site, McCollough said that appears unlikely.

“I don’t see that happening because the data just doesn’t support that,” he said.

However, any clearance from the DEP will be for the land only, and not the town garage, scheduled to be torn down once the new public services facility opens for business in about 18 months. Because of the age of the structures now on site, many of themmost likely contain both lead paint and/or asbestos, McCollough said.

“The age of the buildings there is a little suspect,” he said.

Gailey said assessment of any environmental hazards posed by demolition of the buildings should be complete “by this fall.”

Once the DEP gives the green light for “unrestricted” residential development, the next step will be for Sebago to draft a soil management plan that any future developer of the site will have to follow. McCollough said that plan will likely include reclamation of all the pavement on the property and removal of the “top few inches” of soil.

How much it will cost the city to clear the buildings to prepare the land for sale to a developer is still unknown.

“I’ve started to put those numbers together, but I still have a lot of work to do,” McCollough said “I always get in trouble when I throw them out too early.”

Gailey said neighborhood meetings would be held to gain feedback from area residents for how they would like to see the property redeveloped after public works decamps to its new $15.7 million home on Highland Avenue in about 18 months.

One key question will concern whether abutters want O’Neil Street to remain a dead end, or built though, creating a connection to Pitt Street. Residents will also be asked if they’d rather see housing lots created of similar size to the surrounding streets, or something that includes more open space.

“We are not going to redevelop this site in a vacuum,” Gailey said.

Councilor Patti Smith quizzed McCullough on the test results, based on her experience with the Trout Brook Watershed Management Plan. The conventional wisdom had been that the nearby stream had suffered due to salt runoff from storage areas at the public works site.

However, McCullough said almost all results were below acceptable levels for a residential area.

Benzo(a)pyrene was found in two test pits and in surface soil at one location in concentrations ranging from 0.39 to 1.2 milligrams per kilogram of soil, he said. However, while that is above the 0.26 level recommended for house lots and, in two of the three cases, the 0.44 allowed for parks, it remained “less than the background concentration for urban developed land.”

McCollough said lead also was found in groundwater sampled from one location at 440 parts per billion, well above the generally acceptable 20 ppb. However, private wells will not be allowed at any homes built on the site, which will be served by the city’s public water system.

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