The Recorder – Greenfield welcomes officials for environmental audit at Lunt Silversmiths property
GREENFIELD — A group of residents and city leaders greeted state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) officials Wednesday morning for the start of an audit of the environmental remediation process at the former Lunt Silversmiths property on Federal Street.
“We’re here to encourage DEP to really do a thorough job,” said Susan Worgaftik, an abutter to the property. “We have a lot of questions, and not a lot of answers. We want to know everything is done, and if it is, we’ll be happy.”
Worgaftik was joined by other neighbors to the project, as well as Precinct 3 Councilor Virginia “Ginny” DeSorgher and City Council President Sheila Gilmour. Former councilor Norman Hirschfeld was also present.
“I was on the council when this project began,” said Hirschfeld. “We were told it was cleaned up … but they didn’t go through the whole process. We want it cleaned up and re-inspected.”
Mayor Roxann Wedegartner, who accompanied DEP officials through the building Wednesday morning along with Health Director Jennifer Hoffman and Planning and Development Director Eric Twarog, previously explained that the city took the property — which the Springfield-based 401 Liberty St. LLC currently subleases to the Behavioral Health Network and Clinical & Support Options — in a tax action in 2014. She has maintained that the city has a legal obligation to honor the contract and execute the sale of the property.
However, the property has been the subject of controversy among residents and city officials who have expressed concern about the status of the environmental cleanup. The issue was initially raised late last year by DeSorgher when the property was brought before City Council to declare it as surplus and authorize the mayor’s sale. In particular, there is concern for contamination levels of trichloroethylene (TCE).
Wedegartner said Wednesday afternoon that the meeting earlier in the day was a chance for state officials to explain the audit process and what it entails.
The “welcoming picket” followed Tuesday’s meeting of the Economic Development Committee, during which attorney Raipher Pellegrino — who manages 401 Liberty St. LLC — was invited to speak.
Pellegrino explained to city councilors that just prior to being able to file an authorized use limitation (AUL) — which limits the use of a particular site — a petition was filed by residents seeking a more active role in the environmental cleanup efforts. The petition, which launched the start of the Public Involvement Plan (PIP) also triggered an audit by the DEP.
“For the record … we requested that DEP audit last year,” Pellegrino said. “It’s an invitation to audit; they don’t have to. … We wanted to be thorough in our process to make sure we’re including everything the regulatory agencies would want. That process is playing itself out now.”
Wedegartner said in an interview Wednesday that the PIP “continues to go on.”
“This doesn’t stop it,” she said. “Their goal is to do this audit, so the public does have the opportunity to have the information and so do we. That’s a good thing.”
Pellegrino emphasized that anything the DEP finds unsatisfactory would be addressed and corrected.
“I understand your concerns, and they’re no different than ours,” Pellegrino told the Economic Development Committee. “Remember, we’re financially on the hook for this project. If there’s danger to tenants, it comes back to us. … We have no choice but to comply with a DEP audit … because the penalties are severe.”
DeSorgher asked Pellegrino if he could share — at some point, if not immediately — a breakdown of how money was spent on environmental remediation.
“It would be a very difficult exercise to go through and tell you penny for penny what was deemed remediation,” he said.
Pellegrino explained that, with remediation efforts often involving aspects of construction, differentiating “remediation” versus “construction” expenses can be difficult.
Altogether, he estimated the firm has spent between $11 million and $12 million on the property.
Precinct 9 Councilor Derek Helie said he doesn’t doubt Pellegrino’s intentions and he appreciates the time and money the firm had spent on providing a “valuable resource” to the community.
“I think the big area of concern is the people who are residing there for a long duration and possibly being exposed to high levels of (volatile organic compounds) and different items that have been found in previous reports to be above permissible limits for residential areas,” he said. “This isn’t classified as a residential area; however, people are staying there for a long duration of time.”
At-Large Councilor Philip Elmer added that there was concern over the fact air quality testing hadn’t been done in a few years. He questioned Pellegrino about the cost of further testing.
“Air testing is generally done over at least, it could be two to four seasons,” Pellegrino explained. “So it takes either a year or two years, depending on what season you’re going on.”
He estimated the cost would be less than $50,000.
“The reason there’s been no new air testing is because there’s no regulatory requirements,” he said, adding that all air quality levels fell “within the comfort level.”
Still, councilors had questions about the data. Elmer noted that while test results met standards when averaged, there were numbers reported at various times that fell above residential standards.
“If someone’s in a residential treatment center, and it’s during a period when the air quality is spiking … they’re breathing it,” Elmer said. “They’re not breathing the average, they’re breathing what’s in the room.”
To that, Pellegrino said, “we could respectfully disagree.”
“I’m not a scientist, but I understand this process very well,” he said. “My understanding is that’s not how it … impacts a person. It has to be prolonged.”
Earlier in the evening, Pellegrino shared that his firm has experience in dealing with two contaminated properties on Liberty Street in Springfield.
“Again, we rehabbed that site for BHN,” Pellegrino told the Economic Development Committee, adding that the process mirrored the one in Greenfield. “We don’t control what happens on the cleanup. We’re required by law to hire a licensed site professional. … We’ve never once had any suggestions from either regulatory body there was anything inappropriate or any shortcut taken.”
Like some of her fellow councilors, Precinct 5 Councilor Marianne Bullock asked why further testing hasn’t been done in light of the concerns raised.
“I think the part I really struggle with is what our citizens are asking for, compared to $11 million in fixes, feels relatively small,” she said. “I think in service of being a good neighbor, you listen to your neighbor. I don’t feel like that’s happening here.”
Holding a sign to welcome the DEP Wednesday morning, Worgaftik, too, suggested the ultimate goal was for the concerns of the public be heard.
“We’ve had to bring the state to say, ‘Can you check this out?’” she said. “We’ve been treated as if we’re horrible people for asking these questions. This is about protecting the community.”
Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne