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Nashua Residents Want More Cleanup At Toxic Waste Site Tapped For Redevelopment

Annie Ropeik

The Environmental Protection Agency will give Nashua residents more time to comment on cleanup plans for a toxic waste site after a tense public hearing Thursday.

The Mohawk Tannery site sits in a residential area near the Nashua River. It’s contaminated with toxic sludge and has been proposed as a Superfund site for years.

Now, the EPA says a local company – Blaylock LLC – wants to clean up the site and reuse it. Bernard Plante of Nashua-based Melton Associates is listed in state records as a representative for the company. 

He wasn't at Thursday's meeting, but says in an email to NHPR that he has agreed with the city and EPA not to discuss the site publicly until a cleanup plan is finalized. 

"We would be doing a disservice to the neighborhood and the regulatory agencies overseeing the properties reuse without first solidifying a plan that satisfies all stakeholders," Plante says. "The first stop following definitive remediation/redevelopment plan organization will be the neighborhood."

The EPA is proposing carrying out the cheapest of its possible cleanup methods for the site: concentrating the waste in one area, a lagoon, and surrounding it on the sides and top with impermeable concrete.

Credit Annie Ropeik / NHPR
A slide in the EPA's presentation Thursday shows a sign posted at a dirt bike course dug by trespassers at Mohawk Tannery.

The site is unlined, but officials say years of monitoring show contamination is not spreading out of the site or into the adjacent river.

But this is a different proposal than one the EPA offered when Mohawk was first nominated as a Superfund in the early 2000s. Back then, the agency proposed trucking waste off-site at a higher cost.

But the city opted not to have the site listed as an official Superfund, instead spending the past several years looking for a developer who would chip in on cleanup and give the site a new economic use.

All the while, the fenced-off, overgrown site has been what the EPA calls an "attractive nuisance," drawing trespassers, graffiti artists and even a hand-dug dirt bike course. The city tore down several buildings at the site after a series of suspected arsons.

Finally, they found a "persistent" developer in Blaylock, drawing attention from former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and culminating in this new cleanup proposal. 

Now, neighbors who wore shirts and buttons and held signs that said "no shortcuts" and "save our children" say they feel that was a mistake. 

Credit Annie Ropeik / NHPR
Neighbors hold signs at the public hearing asking the EPA not to take "shortcuts" in cleaning up Mohawk Tannery.

Nearby resident Rhiannon Robinson says she still wants the EPA, city and Blaylock LLC to pay more up-front to truck the waste off-site. 

“I’m not all that worried about a little bit of noise and a little bit of emissions and a little bit more money if it means that when my two-year-old son, God love him, starts eating dirt, it’s not going to cause cancer in him later on," Robinson said during public comment.

Residents can now continue commenting on the plan until Sept. 7.

After that, the EPA will write responses to comments and select a final cleanup plan by next summer.

This story has been updated to include comment from Blaylock, LLC and details about the site's history.

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