The Day (New London, Conn.) (pg. 1A), October 6, 2006
NORWICH HOSPITAL ENVIRONMENTAL REPORT QUESTIONED
Consulting Firm Says State May Not Accept Cleanup Cost Analysis
By Megan Bard
Preston -- In the 120 days it was allowed, the environmental consultant for a developer proposing to build a $1.6 billion entertainment complex on the former Norwich Hospital property did the best it could to assess the extent of the contamination there.EarthTech Inc., however, did not do as thorough a job as might be necessary for its report to be considered a complete "Phase 3" assessment of the 419-acre, state-owned site between Route 12 and the Thames River.
Those, at least, are the conclusions of the independent consulting firm that reviewed the EarthTech assessment for the town.
In a 52-page report to the Norwich Hospital Advisory Committee, GZA GeoEnvironmental Inc. questioned whether the state Department of Environmental Protection will accept some of EarthTech's conclusions. GZA also suggested that the need for supplemental testing might increase the estimated cost of the cleanup of the property and require a larger contingency fund.
Earlier this year, the cost of cleanup was estimated at $40 million.
According to EarthTech's preliminary estimate, the cost would be about $37.8 million. Of that, $7.6 million would be designated for the demolition, abatement or removal of roughly 60 structures on the site, various underground pedestrian and utility tunnels and construction debris.
Once a firmer cost estimate is developed, Utopia Studios Ltd., the potential developer of the site, would have to post a performance bond in that amount, guaranteeing funds are available to complete the cleanup if it is unable to finish the job. Utopia must also provide a gap insurance policy assuring there are funds to cover cost overruns. The town must pay 10 percent of the cost of the insurance policy.
The EarthTech report and a complementary study of the structures, conducted by Eagle Environmental Co., consist of thousands of pages of test data, analyses and documentation of groundwater, soil and structural contamination, among other information. The materials were submitted Wednesday night to the town.
The filing of the reports was among 28 conditions Utopia must meet before Nov. 20 for the Long Island-based developer to acquire the property. The Utopia project calls for enclosed theme parks, film studios, 4,500 hotel rooms and a performing arts college.
In its assessment of 25 of 37 "Areas of Concern" -- sections of the property where contamination was found -- studied by Earth Tech, GZA notes that additional investigation is required to reach adequate conclusions on the extent of the contamination. In some cases, GZA engineers wrote that EarthTech's conclusions do not meet DEP remediation standards and that the DEP might not accept EarthTech's suggestions for alternative abatement procedures.
A copy of the environmental assessment is expected to be submitted to the state Department of Environmental Protection in the near future.
Dennis Schain, a DEP spokesman, said Thursday that the department is prepared to consult and offer technical advice and assistance to the developer or its agent. If the property is transferred from the state to Preston and then to Utopia, the DEP will ultimately determine whether the cleanup plan meets state regulatory standards.
Schain said thus far the department and the environmental consultants have had "good communication and a cooperative relationship."
Both consulting firms recognized that areas where heating oil and pesticides were found are primary concerns. However, GZA questioned whether more testing would be required to determine the full extent of the contamination.
Wednesday night, GZA consultants told committee members that a Phase 3 environmental study is generally conducted over many months and revised several times before it is finished. During that time, several supplemental tests might be conducted. EarthTech, however, may not have had time to complete those tests, the GZA consultants said.
Despite the time constraints, Joseph Gentile, the chief financial officer of Utopia Studios, said the report is "extremely comprehensive."
"Nothing will be glowing in the dark," Gentile said Thursday night. "There is not a surprise because we've done our due diligence. The professionals will continue to work on it and we're happy with the progress that's made."
Hospital committee members Gerald Grabarek and Kent Borner said Thursday night that the report is good but that more information is needed.
One area where GZA is recommending additional study relates to the release of heating oil into the ground. The oil leaked from on old boiler in the Power House building and from buried oil storage tanks under the building. It is estimated that the oil has spread 170 feet toward the Thames River and is at least 50 feet below ground, resting on the water table.
In the 1990s, the soil contaminated by oil was removed up to 27 feet deep. If the state requires the soil under the building to be removed, the building, which is to be renovated, might have to be demolished instead.
Regarding pesticides, GZA questioned whether EarthTech's decision to test areas around just seven of the nearly 60 buildings would be acceptable to the DEP. GZA also questioned why EarthTech tested for pesticides on the core campus but took fewer samples from the agricultural land on the property.
Grabarek, a dairy farmer with knowledge of chemicals used for decades to prepare fields, said he'd like more information on the extent of the contamination in the agricultural area. He said he'd also like more information on whether some of the identified contamination came from the site or from the incinerator down river.
GZA also suggested that additional investigation would be required to determine the extent of contamination near railroad tracks.
Early in the study, Utopia Studios and the town debated the significance of contaminated "outfalls" from the site to the Thames River. After weeks of discussion, EarthTech was told to investigate the area. In its report and in GZA's review, both consulting firms say that cleanup of the area, including dredging of sediments in the river, is not warranted.
But GZA notes in its report that additional sampling might be necessary to verify this finding for the DEP.
Copyright, 2006, The Day Publishing Company