Tuesday, May 21, 2013
PORTLAND – Construction was halted for two days this week at a $5.5 million housing project at the former Adams Elementary School on Munjoy Hill after neighbors complained that bulldozers and other construction work raised huge plumes of dust at a site known to be contaminated with lead and arsenic.
A dust cloud rises Monday as a tree is felled on the site of the former Adams School. Dust levels will be more closely monitored after residents complained.
From video by Gary Marcisso
On Monday, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection asked contractors for Avesta Housing to temporarily halt construction work at the location bordered by Munjoy, Moody, Vesper and Wilson streets, where they are building 16 townhouse condominiums.
"When things get off to a rough start, you have to hit the reset button," DEP spokeswoman Samantha Depoy-Warren said Wednesday.
Avesta officials called the two-day break on Tuesday and Wednesday a "natural pause" in construction.
Representatives of the DEP and the Environmental Protection Agency met with Avesta officials and contractors on Wednesday to discuss how to keep the dust down at the site.
Going forward, contractors will use instruments to monitor dust levels and an environmental consultant will oversee the work, according to Seth Parker, Avesta's project manager. In addition, a fire hydrant is being installed to allow contractors to keep the soil wet to reduce dust, Depoy-Warren said.
The work is scheduled to resume today, according to Dana Totman, president and chief operating officer of Avesta Housing.
The contractor did not spray down the site with water on Friday and Monday because they were simply preparing the site for remediation and removal of contaminated soil, Parker said. The dust that kicked up as they removed trees and added fencing was no more toxic than dust that is normally found in the neighborhood, he said.
"The subsurface excavation is the primary concern," Parker said. "When you start to get into that, that's the dust that you want to control."
The soil at the site, which was the location of a grenade factory, a lead paint factory and a trolley garage before it became a school in 1958, is known to contain lead and arsenic. Avesta received a $200,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up the contamination.
Seeing dust rising from the site worried some residents in the dense hilltop neighborhood. Starting last weekend, concerned residents began contacting the EPA, DEP and political leaders such as state Rep. Diane Russell and City Councilor Kevin Donoghue, both of whom live nearby.
"I am deeply concerned, because my apartment is directly across from lot," O'Brion Street resident Aprill Newman said Wednesday. "I know there are a lot of contaminants in the soil."
Newman said she was worried the dust would contaminate her raised garden bed, where she grows vegetables and herbs for her family.
Gary Marcisso, who lives and owns rental properties on Vesper Street, captured plumes of dust on video Monday. One video shows an excavator digging in the dirt and another shows the felling of a large tree, which created a large dust cloud.
"They were literally doing nothing to control the dust," Marcisso said.
Meanwhile, the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization has set up a meeting for Monday, with Avesta, the DEP and EPA, and the development team at 6 p.m. at the East End Community School's community room.
"Obviously we don't want (contractors) kicking up dust all over the place and making it impossible for people to feel safe and comfortable in that area," said the neighborhood organization's president, Andrea Myhaver, who has been pleased with the Avesta's community outreach.
Depoy-Warren stressed that the DEP does not believe neighbors were exposed to contaminated dust, but felt it was important to ensure developers appreciated the neighborhood's concerns.
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