Soil contamination found at Byram Park

Portions of Byram Park are now temporarily closed for soil remediation, but nothing has been found to hinder the development of a new municipal pool there.

According to a report delivered to the Board of Selectmen on Dec. 4 by Commissioner of Public Works Amy Siebert and Alan Monelli, town superintendent of building construction and maintenance, environmental testing of the site is complete and there were findings of elevated levels of arsenic in the soil in specific areas. The temporary closure for remediation, which has already gone into effect, impacts only the area known as the “Rosenwald property” and not Byram Beach itself. This will affect the current pool as well as the playground and garden and where the new pool is set to be built, but that area was to be cleared out anyway as part of the construction.

Mr. Monelli said the findings were the result of “extensive sampling” and analysis. He said that all soil samples were taken beneath the turf and mulch layers and went down to an average of five feet underground as part of “phase one” testing.

“The results of the samples only found high levels of arsenic present in the layer closest to the surface and analysis shows no arsenic in the mulch of the playground or in the grass,” Mr. Monelli said, adding that the level of arsenic dropped the deeper the soil was tested and that no ash was found in this closed area to go along with the arsenic.

Because of these results, “phase two” testing was done, which involved more sampling of the soil to determine the extent of the arsenic contamination in the area where the construction would be. Mr. Monelli said that, overall, 77 samples were taken and analyzed. Only arsenic in the topsoil was detected, and no other contamination, including PCBs, was found. Because that area will be disturbed during construction, there will have to be remediation and that’s why the impacted areas are now closed. The “phase three” of the testing has been done to start that remediation process

Ms. Siebert told the selectmen that arsenic was a concern when found in drinking water but that water for the area was coming from a different source and there was thought to be no risk to public health. She said the soil was found to be dry in the area, thanks to all the sandstone used there, so no groundwater contamination was found. Ms. Siebert also said that the turf and mulch operated as a barrier between people using the area and the contamination and the area was being closed anyway just as a precaution.

“We want to get in there and get this out of there,” Ms. Siebert said. “We want people to understand that your normal users of the area are going to be fine, but now that we know about that we need to take steps to address it and move forward with the project.”

The testing was done as part of the ongoing public/private partnership between the town and the Junior League of Greenwich to replace the current pool, which is both out of code and severely run down, with leaks having formed. This is the town’s only municipal pool, and the project was already given municipal improvement (MI) status by the Board of Selectmen. The proposed design of the new pool was scheduled to be voted on Tuesday night by the Planning and Zoning Commission; there will be full coverage in the Dec. 18 edition of the Post.

Under the proposed design, the new pool, which would be about 200 feet from the current pool, would be done within all current guidelines for handicapped accessibility as well as under new Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) rules for construction in a flood zone, meaning it would be at a higher elevation. The current pool and other structures would be removed and replaced with new pools and a new pool house.

When the selectmen granted MI status in July, members of the public and board members themselves expressed concerns about potential contamination of the soil. Town government has given extra scrutiny to soil testing recently after construction on the music instructional space and auditorium (MISA) project at Greenwich High School revealed that contaminated fill had been used decades earlier during the initial construction of the school. That not only delayed the project but also led to the town, at a great expense, having to remediate the area to meet both state and federal standards.

As in the contamination at GHS, Mr. Monelli pointed the finger at bad fill likely used in the topsoil in the 1920s, before environmental health standards made use of such soil illegal. He said it was “more than likely” the soil used there contained arsenic when it was brought in. The property had once been used as a quarry and was turned into a residential home in the 1920s. The property was eventually purchased by the town as park land and the pool on the estate was turned into the municipal pool.

But unlike with GHS, Mr. Monelli said, the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) did not have jurisdiction over the cleanup of the site. He did stress that remediation would be done very thoroughly.

“Byram Park is a public park, and the safety and well-being of the citizens of the town is our first and foremost concern,” Mr. Monelli said, adding that the Department of Public Works was consulting with the DEEP as well as the town and state health departments and that an agreement on how to remediate it had been made and would continue to be evaluated.

Mr. Monelli said there was no reason to believe that there was any contamination of nearby Tom’s Brook from this area and stressed that no contaminants other than arsenic were found in the park. Under the remediation plan, the topsoil would be removed down to about 15 inches deep into the ground and transported to a licensed site in Connecticut that may receive contaminated soil. Clean and tested topsoil would then be brought in and new grass would be planted.

Money will be requested from the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) for this removal. Mr. Monelli said that due to delays from Thanksgiving and the newness of the information, it was unclear right now how much the remediation might cost. He said there would also be further discussions with the state before the remediation actually began. Ms. Siebert said it wasn’t clear yet if money would be requested in next year’s budget for this or if an interim appropriation would be sought.

“We need to take a look at this as a group and discuss it,” Ms. Siebert said.

Representatives from the Junior League were at the meeting on Dec. 11 but did not address the board, as the testing had revealed no issues that would seemingly interfere with the pool project if the cleanup funds are approved. The Junior League has already raised money for development work on the project and will do so for the actual construction itself, provided the town’s end of the cost is approved. The selectmen have all indicated their personal support for a new municipal pool, and it seems likely that funding will be in First Selectman Peter Tesei’s proposed 2015-16 municipal budget when he unveils it next year. However, the project would also need approval from the BET and Representative Town Meeting (RTM).

Town Parks and Recreation Director Joe Siciliano said the cleanup of the site exists independently of the pool construction and it would have to be done whether or not that project is approved.

“The hard fact is we either clean it up or we keep the property closed,” Mr. Siciliano said.

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