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EPA Has Cost-Sharing Deal To Clean Up, Redevelop Nashua's Mohawk Tannery Superfund

The Environmental Protection Agency has reached a deal to split the cost of cleanup for a hazardous waste site in Nashua with a business that aims to redevelop the property.

The city and EPA have wanted to clean up and redevelop the riverfront site known as the Mohawk Tannery for more than a decade.

The former leather-making facility left toxic sludge in the ground in a residential area. It’s been proposed as a Superfund for more than two decades.

Now, the EPA says it plans to reimburse a developer, Blaylock Holdings LLC, $6 million to carry out a previously finalized remediation plan.

The cleanup’s total cost to taxpayers, if done by the EPA, would have been $14 million. Under this deal, which is out for public comment until March 15, the developer would conduct that work, promising not to sue the EPA over the contamination.

“Once the cleanup is complete, Blaylock plans to redevelop the area into mixed-use commercial space and residential units, providing significant economic opportunity and much-needed residential housing and bringing an otherwise abandoned property back into productive use,” the EPA said in a press release.

Bryan Olson, who oversees the Superfund program in New England, said in an interview that this has been the agency’s goal for the Mohawk site for years.

“We’re just happy that we’ve been able to get it done,” Olson said. “This is a beautiful piece of property, it really is, once it’s cleaned up.”

Olson said the EPA has prioritized Superfund redevelopment and cleanup cost-sharing agreements like this for the past decade or so. This is the first one they’ve secured for a site this size in New England, he said, and one of only a handful nationwide.

The concept is more common at former military sites, such as the Pease Air Base Superfund-turned-Tradeport in Portsmouth, Olson said. Pease and Mohawk Tannery are among about two dozen proposed or listed Superfund sites located in New Hampshire.

Nashua Mayor Jim Donchess couldn’t be reached for comment Friday but said in the EPA's release that the Mohawk cleanup “will greatly benefit our city,” creating a site that “will serve as a lasting symbol of positive change in our community.”

Cleanup for the property and some adjacent parcels will take about 18 months and will involve consolidating hazardous waste in one area, raising it out of the groundwater table, and sealing it off with a cap and wall. Olson said the engineering for that is a main driver of the project’s cost.

In the past few years, neighbors had raised concerns about the waste remaining on the site. But Olson said the agency does this approach fairly often and considers it to be safe.   

“It’s not always cost-effective to send everything on a site basically off to someone else’s community – it’s just not something that we can do on most sites,” he said. “We feel really comfortable consolidating, capping this kind of material. It doesn’t move very easily.”

The EPA plans to hold public information sessions with details of the project later this spring, once the cost-sharing agreement is finalized.

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.
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