NH reaches $500k Superfund cleanup cost deal; EPA takes legal action over contaminated Wilton site
Georgia Pacific agrees to pay state’s costs in ongoing cleanup; federal agency seeks access to former Abbott Machine site
Just as the state reached a $500,000 settlement with Georgia Pacific to reimburse it for its investigation of a Superfund site at the former Brown Paper Company mill in Berlin, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is about to renew its investigation of a contaminated site Wilton – a site whose cleanup is seen as paving the way for a major redevelopment of the town.
The two legal actions took place at the same time in June, showing that dealing with industrial waste going back generations still has an impact on environmental and economic life.
The state Department of Environmental Services’ suit was filed June 22 against George Pacific, the Atlanta, Ga.-based paper manufacturer that was successor to the James River Company, which operated the mill after acquiring the Brown Paper Company in the 1980s. The mill was shut down in 2006.
The mill’s chemical facility, which dates back to the late 1800s, produced chlorine and sodium hydroxide, contaminating the soil, the groundwater and sediments of the Androscoggin River. The company also dumped hazardous waste and contaminated building debris in a landfill called the Cell House property, now capped by two feet of wood chips.
All that became the Chlor-Alkali Facility Superfund Site in Berlin in 2005, and it is located right next to the Burgess biomass plant, the third biggest generator of electric power state. (In 2005, Koch Industries bought the then-publicly traded Georgia Pacific for $13.2 billion and took it private.)
In 2015, Georgia Pacific cleaned up some of the mercury that was found in the river and helped develop a cleanup plan, which was approved in 2020.
The actual cleanup isn’t scheduled to begin until 2024, but Georgia Pacific is on the hook for the state and federal costs incurred so far. The state says it’s owed $561,921.69.
Georgia Pacific agreed to pay the state portion, though it is not admitting any wrongdoing. On June 13, a company official signed a consent decree. That decree, however, won’t be final until it goes through a public comment period.
The state portion is a small fraction of the EPA’s costs. Drew Hoffinan, state project coordinator for NHDES, estimates that the price tag will be in excess of $10 million. He said the EPA and Georgia Pacific are still in negotiations.
Abbott Machine site
Meanwhile, the EPA filed its own legal action two days after the Georgia Pacific filing, but it is a warrant, not a lawsuit, to gain access to a parcel of land called the Abbott Machine Co. site, believed to be contaminated by the company, which allegedly disposed of six 55-gallon barrels of sodium cyanide.
The problem is that the EPA – or anybody else for that matter – doesn’t have any idea who owns the abandoned parcel, which is no bigger than a tenth of an acre.
The owner of record is the E.J. Abbott Memorial Trust Inc., formed in 1950. Mary Abbott of Hollis was the sole trustee, but the trust dissolved in 1991, and the town hasn’t collected any taxes on the property since. Mary Abbott died in 2009 without leaving any heirs, at least any who would claim ownership of the property.
A preliminary investigation in 2003 found some cyanide adjacent to Stoney Brook, which flows into the Souhegan River. Concentrated cyanide is a deadly poison, but even lower levels can result in breathing difficulties, heart pains, vomiting, blood changes, headaches and enlargement of the thyroid gland.
A 2010 report put together at the request of the town of Wilton and the Nashua Regional Planning Commission concluded that there is a threat that the cyanide could contaminate the environment.
Wilton is interested in the site because it is trying to develop it to build a concert pavilion, right at the beginning of a riverwalk, according to Jennifer Beck, chair of the Wilton Economic Development Team.
“Wilton has some very hip musicians, but it needs a space for people to gather, and that’s an economic driver,” she said. “It would been a huge enhancement.”
Right across the street is a building that they also hope could be developed into restaurants. “But we can’t do anything until this is resolved. The town wants that property, but not if it’s going to be a huge liability,” she said.
So Wilton called on a higher power – the federal government – to gain access to the site, and that could happen as soon as Friday, Beck said.