Former Medfield hospital cleanup sets precedent
Negotiated plan increases state spending $1 million
A settlement to clean up a former Medfield State Hospital landfill will prod state agencies to give more careful review to remediating environmentally sensitive Commonwealth-owned sites, especially ones near rivers and other water sources.
The town of Medfield and the state Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance reached an agreement in June on what promises to be one of the largest ever Charles River restoration projects. The decision ended a long-running dispute over how best to deal with pollution at the old hospital dump. The estimated cost of the plan, including off-site disposal, is about $5.2 million, about $1million more than the option the agency originally selected.
Cleaning up an inland landfill is usually a straightforward project, but the dump’s riverbank location threw a wedge into the negotiations between the town and state on how best to deal with the sensitive area. The three-acre landfill also sits near a town well, an untapped aquifer that Medfield wanted to preserve for future use, and the former state hospital campus itself that the town officials hope to purchase and redevelop.
The dispute bogged down the scope of a cleanup near the drinking water sources and the river. State officials put a cleanup plan on the table that removed some of the contaminated soil and capped and left in place most of the remainder. The agency plan was the least expensive of several options that would bring the site into compliance with state hazardous waste standards.
Medfield officials wanted a more extensive clean up of a location near the well and the aquifer where asbestos, lead, and other toxins were disposed of over decades. How state officials planned to remove oil-laced sediment in the river from a decades-old oil spill also raised the hackles of the Charles River Watershed Association.
The impasse became a cause célèbre in the small Boston suburb. Convinced that state officials were trying to take the cheapest way out, residents crowded into standing-room-only public meetings to snipe at state officials. Several members of the town committee that had been negotiating with the agency approached Commissioner Carole Cornelison and suggested that the two sides work with a mediator to end the impasse. CommonWealth covered the controversy shortly before the mediation effort got underway last year.
Cornelison, a former local government official in Ohio, agreed. “There can be [a] divide between the perceptions of a local government and a state entity,” she said. “It was important to help to try to bridge that divide and really give some assurance to the town that we were serious about the mediation process.”
The private deliberations did not sit well with some residents, but the move diffused tensions. Over the course of 20 meetings, the two sides revisited one of the most controversial issues, the extent of the contamination from the toxins in the dump.
New tests showed that there was more oil-laced sediment in the river than previously discovered and that the contamination was closer to the bank, according to William Massaro, a member of the town’s negotiating committee. More asbestos also turned up at the dump site, along with lead.
Where contamination exceeded state standards, Massachusetts officials agreed to remove the soil to an off-site disposal facility. Contaminated sediment will also be removed from an area near the town’s water supply and physically separated from the groundwater supply.
“The majority of the area is going to look like it did a hundred years ago,” said Massaro. “It will be an asset for the river and its users.”