City moves forward with new facility despite contamination

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The Raleigh City Council voted this week to move forward on developing a new facility on a hazardous waste site after depleting a $300,000 escrow account earmarked for environmental cleanup. Additional cleanup efforts would cost $420,000 over the next three years, with the total climbing to about $1.5 million over thirty years of monitoring.

The new Downtown Remote Operations facility, one of five that the City plans to build in diverse locations over the next several years, will house maintenance, engineering and vehicle fleet services for the city. “These facilities will provide upgraded and expanded facilities,” wrote Richard Kelly, city construction projects administration, in an e-mail, “to provide more efficient utilization of City resources and quicker response times, thus providing enhanced and more efficient service to the citizens of Raleigh.”

By voting to withdraw from an administrative agreement with the state’s Division of Waste Management, the council gave up attempts to have the property removed from a list of hazardous waste sites.

The site in question, part of the former Westinghouse electric meter factory between Capital and Raleigh boulevards just north of the Beltline, will remain on the list of hazardous waste sites maintained by the Inactive Hazardous Site Branch of the state Division of Waste Management. Shortly after the city bought the property in December 2007 the state ranked the Westinghouse site 424 out of 519 hazardous sites. The higher the number, the lower the priority on the state list.

The city purchased approximately 31 acres of the 100-acre Westinghouse site for $11.9 million. At the time of the sale, $300,000 of the purchase price was put into an escrow to pay for investigation and remediation of suspected soil or groundwater contamination. The entire Westinghouse site has been on the state inventory of hazardous waste sites since January 1988.

Westinghouse Electric Corporation manufactured electric meters and light bulbs on the site from 1957 until it sold off the property in the late 1980’s and 1990’s. When the City purchased part of this site, it believed that Westinghouse had used a parcel designated Lot 1 A-R for storing waste products that could have leeched into the soil or groundwater. These waste products have been removed.

The agreement with the state would have removed the property from the state list of hazardous sites. The city council hired an environmental consultant two years ago to test the site and figure out how to clean it up.

“It would have taken years” to go through the state process, said Kelly. “Because escrow funds were associated with the investment, the city wanted to proceed as quickly as possible.”

The consultant determined that groundwater under Lot 1 A-R and other portions of the land purchased in the sale did contain contaminating substances, specifically tetrachloroethene (PCE) and trichloroethene (TCE). These chemicals could come from a wide range of sources used in industry.

Although the consultant’s investigation was unable to pin the groundwater contamination on any entity, the city has formally filed with the state to name ABB, the parent company of Westinghouse, responsible for groundwater contaminations on portions of the land adjoining the lot. Responsible parties are required to clean up environmentally hazardous materials that they have left behind. There is no indication that the City is responsible for any contamination.

“We won’t immediately pursue the responsible party because of the site’s [low] ranking on the list,” said Cathy Akroyd, public information officer with DWM, “but we eventually will be investigating that.”

According to a memorandum from Kelly and City Project Engineer Bill Black to City Manager Russell Allen, buildings on the new Downtown Remote Operations site will receive water and sewer services from the City system, so building amenities are not at risk of contamination by polluted groundwater.

Although described as “unlikely” by Kelly and Black, “off-gassing” or evaporation of hazardous chemicals in the groundwater could occur. To prevent toxic gases from affecting people on the site or nearby, the city plans to install a passive venting system that should keep these gases from entering enclosed spaces. Once through the venting system and away from occupied areas, the gases would dilute to harmless levels.

In addition to these safety features, the city could also install monitoring wells to easily investigate any possible further contamination during the development and use of the Downtown Remote Operations Facility.

“We’ve done our due diligence,” said City Manager Allen at Tuesday’s Council meeting.

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