Source: https://www.theday.com, July 1, 2019
By: Claire Bessette
The state’s use decades ago of ash from a coal-fired heating plant at the Norwich Hospital to create roadways and sidewalks throughout the property is resurfacing as an unexpected cost during the final months of the town’s cleanup of the site, which Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment has proposed developing.
Environmental testing and cleanup crews have removed coal ash piles and have dug up former campus roadways to get at ash in the roadbeds. But Preston Redevelopment Agency Chairman Sean Nugent said much more extensive coal ash contamination has been detected on the property.
“We found additional ash cinders below, in some places two feet of ash, then two feet of clean (fill), then two feet of ash beneath that,” Nugent said. “We also found additional asbestos material wrapped around tree roots.”
The discoveries have added an estimated $4 million in cleanup costs associated with the 393-acre property, prompting town officials to seek release of a $2 million low-interest contingency loan approved by the state in addition to a $10 million grant awarded to cover final cleanup costs. The low-interest loan has payment forgiveness provisions based on the number of jobs created by the future development.
The town also is seeking an additional $2 million state grant to cover the added costs of removing the coal ash and asbestos in the ground.
State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, co-chairwoman of the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee, said she has asked Gov. Ned Lamont’s office to look at potential brownfields funding for Preston to finish the hospital cleanup.
Osten said the additional $2 million request is in keeping with Lamont’s so-called “debt diet,” which calls for reducing bonding to essential spending.
“I think it qualifies, because it cleans up a former state site, it’s economic development …,” said Osten. “I think cleaning up brownfields to get these properties back on the tax rolls is important.”
Nugent said that if the $2 million contingency loan can be promptly released by the state Department of Economic and Community Development and the state schedules a Bond Commission vote on the request for the additional $2 million later this summer, the town would not lose time in the final cleanup process.
The town hopes to finish all environmental cleanup by this fall, and by the end of the year obtain certification from the state that the cleanup is done. That would clear the way to transfer the property to Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment.
“If we don’t get the first $2 million released in three weeks, we will have to stop operations,” Nugent said. “We certainly don’t want to do that.”