Thursday, July 03, 2003

Wilmington presses fight vs. Transrail
Reload center at waste site opposed
Reload center at waste site opposed


, Sun Staff

WILMINGTON Stepping up efforts to derail development of a railroad reloading center at Olin Chemical's contaminated site, Wilmington will hire an environmental consultant to study impacts of the proposed use and is calling on a federal board to block the plan.

New England Transrail LLC, which is based in Teaneck, N.J., is poised to purchase Olin's property at 51 Eames St., and build and operate a warehouse and rail-reloading center. Materials expected to be transported and stored at the site include various chemicals, construction and demolition debris, and contaminated soils.

Residents voted at the June Special Town Meeting to prohibit use of construction debris in the town's ground-water protection zone and to ban unpure soil.

The town asked New England Transrail to postpone its filing for an exemption with the federal Surface Transportation Board, which must approve the operation and exempt the company from local permitting requirements. But the company recently filed its plan with the federal board, without notifying the town, officials charge.

Wilmington responded with a June 26 filing asking for a stay on the company's request and for more time to gather comments.

The plan is opposed by the planning director, health director, town counsel, fire and police chiefs and Town Manager Michael Caira. In a letter to New England Transrail, former Town Counsel Michael Newhouse said the impact of the proposed use "poses ominous health concerns to our community."

Kathleen Barry, president of the Concerned Citizens Network in Wilmington, said residents are seeking help from state and U.S. representatives to block the sale. They are also circulating a petition against the plan.

Caira said yesterday that the town is preparing to hire a consultant to study potential environmental impacts of the proposal. The Citizens Advisory Panel, a group of residents and officials dedicated to environmental concerns, also voted Tuesday to recommend getting a consultant on board. The town may use GeoInsight Inc., a consultancy already contracted for other environmental studies in town.

"Most importantly is we think it will have a significant environmental impact," Caira said. "It makes little to no sense to us that they would be putting this type of operation in such an environmentally sensitive area."

Under the direction of the Department of Environmental Protection, Olin has worked for the past decade to clean up hazardous waste dumped at the site. Thomas O'Brien, Olin's environmental sites manager, has called New England Transrail's proposed operation an appropriate use for the site.

Olin settled out of court with several other companies which operated at the site between 1953 and 1980. Olin produced chemicals there between 1980 and 1986. Recently, N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), a probable human carcinogen, was discovered in the Maple Meadow Brook aquifer and is believed to have migrated from Olin's site. The town has discontinued use of five wells.

Caira charges New England Transrail with failing to disclose the extent of the site's contamination, dismissing the community's concerns and misrepresenting facts. He said company officials have not been forthcoming or accessible.

The site is less than a mile from 100 homes and a 132-unit nursing home, Caira said, noting that traffic and noise from a reloading center, which relies on truck and train deliveries, will also have a negative impact on residents.

New England Transrail Managing Principal Ronald Klempner could not be reached for comment yesterday. Attorney Paul Jacobi, who represents the company, said they are preparing a written response to the town's petition for a stay on the company's filing. He said the company expects to file its response with the federal board early next week.

"The company feels they've been pretty forthcoming," Jacobi said.

Construction would start by the end of the year or early 2004 if the exemption is granted, he said. The developer originally filed for an exemption to become effective June 26, but amended it to request an effective date of July 11.

Opponents have protested any sale of the property, arguing that Olin should not leave town until contamination is cleaned up. Olin officials note that Olin retains responsibility for the cleanup even after a sale. Olin has been negotiating to sell the site since 2000.