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Officials see hope in latest plan for hospital site

Where controversy and strife once thrived, a new cleanup plan for the former Medfield State Hospital site along the Charles River has emerged, and state and town officials may soon agree on a common vision of how to turn wasteland into wetlands.

A 3.2-acre portion of the state-owned campus that once served as the hospital’s construction and disposal site is contaminated with ash from a coal-fired power plant, asbestos, and lead, among other pollutants, while residue from a 1978 oil spill affects an 1,800-square-foot area along the river’s edge, officials said.

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In 2011 and last year, state officials presented the town with cleanup plans much smaller in scope, drawing criticism from local officials and residents. Medfield officials last June asked a state mediator to step in, and appointed a committee to work with representatives from the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance on a remediation plan.

State and town officials are slated to present the revised proposal to the Board of Selectmen during its 7 p.m. meeting Tuesday, when they will outline cleanup efforts that could cost the state an estimated $8.5 million.

If the plan wins approval from selectmen, the work could be completed in 2015, officials said.

Details of the latest cleanup effort were announced on June 6, and there will be additional opportunities for public comment if the plan moves forward, officials said.

“We started out on opposite sides of the table, and we ended up sitting together and producing a high-quality, creative result,” said the state property-management agency’s commissioner, Carole Cornelison.

‘Years ago we felt the proposal was unacceptable. It’s pretty clear this is a different project’

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Bill Massaro, a member of the town’s State Hospital Mediation Committee, which has been working with the state on the proposal, said everyone on the committee believes a positive solution has been found.

“It’s taken a while, and a lot of hard work by many people,” he said. “It’s a riverfront restoration everyone can be proud of.”

From the time the state hospital opened in 1896 through the 1960s, no waste or other material ever left the property, said Massaro. Everything from asbestos tiles and insulation to broken mugs and dishes from the dining hall were layered into the ground at the disposal site.

The hospital closed in 2003, and in recent years, potential uses for the 269-acre campus — from recreational to development — have been studied by various town committees as officials met separately to discuss cleaning up the tainted portions of the property.

The latest proposal includes excavating 25,000 cubic yards of soil and debris from the 3.2-acre disposal area, which is in a flood plain along the Charles River. About 2,000 to 3,000 tons of solid waste and fill with elevated levels of lead would be taken away for disposal.

The rest of the material would be hauled uphill from the old landfill site to an adjacent area that is 10 feet above the highest water table, and on the other side of a natural-gas pipeline, said mediation committee member John Thompson.

The excavated material would be placed on an impervious liner, and then covered with a barrier consisting of 2 feet of crushed concrete and 36 inches of loam, Thompson said. Before the excavation begins, a berm would be built to protect the river, a capital asset management official said.

The portion of the plan dealing with the 1,800-square-foot area along the riverbank affected by the decades-old oil spill calls for it to be dredged and the contaminants removed. The work would be timed for when the Charles is at its lowest flow, potentially next summer, to protect water quality. The excavated area would fill in naturally, according to the plan.

Work could then be done to restore the wetlands, including erosion control and revegetation to hold the slope in place. Uphill from the wetlands would be shallow-rooted trees and bushy shrubs, said consultant Monique Allen, chief executive of the Garden Continuum, a Medfield landscaping company.

The area over the contained materials could be turned into meadow, with a flat, mowed promontory, Allen said. The initial design also includes replacing the existing asphalt with water-permeable asphalt and creating 10 parking spaces.

The north and east portions of the Bay Circuit Trail would also be reconnected on the property. Currently there are no signs directing walkers to where the two trail segments meet. The trail would slope gently and provide a lookout to the river, Allen said.

Other elements of the conceptual design include placing a canoe launch on the river near an old pump house, and having a separate area where police and fire officials could launch rescue craft.

Three buildings — the laundry, Odyssey House, and Carriage House — on the campus that have fallen into disrepair would be demolished as part of the plan, Cornelison said.

About 50 people attended the June 6 meeting and heard the new plan for the first time. Questions and concerns from the public ranged from potential health hazards for those living nearby to whether tree roots would reach the contaminated material underground (they would not, Allen said).

Thompson said he would not hesitate to live near the site, calling the capping and containing of the material the safest way to deal with it. Overall, the project would provide recreation opportunities while solving environmental and health problems in the safest way, he said.

Kate Bowditch, with the Charles River Watershed Association, called the nearby section of the Charles River a special resource, and said she is pleased with the direction the state is taking with the revamped cleanup plan.

“Years ago we felt the proposal was unacceptable,” she said. “It’s pretty clear this is a different project.’’

Abby Jordan can be reached at globe.abby@gmail.com.
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