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Project to turn the Shaffer Paper site into a park, could begin by 2015

Posted by Catherine Cloutier  February 20, 2014 12:25 PM

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Officials from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation were in Dorchester's Port Norfolk neighborhood Tuesday night to kick-off the $4.25-million effort to turn the Shaffer Paper site into a park.

The contaminated, approximately 14-acre former industrial parcel, located just across the Neponset River from North Quincy, will be cleaned up and redeveloped into a passive recreation space. The final product is expected to include meadows, benches, walking paths, and views of the Neponset River.

Located along Taylor and Walnut streets, the site contains a number of land parcels, including the former site of Shaffer Paper, a paper recycler and one of the most recent occupants of the property. Since the 1850s, the main site and several adjacent parcels have been used for a variety of industrial activities, including lumber storage. The parcels were eventually seized by the state in 1986.

DCR officials were at the Port Norfolk Yacht Club to let the nearly 50 residents in attendance at Tuesday's event know that they have the money, they have a plan, and if all goes well, shovels could be in the ground by early 2015. DCR unveiled its intentions to clean up the site in December.

"We've done a lot of listening and we've tried to tune this project to the site and the neighborhood," explained Mike Misslin, chief engineer for DCR.

Although DCR's announcement is welcomed news after more than 30 years of advocacy by residents, the project still has a few limitations. The mudflats adjacent to the site will not be cleaned of Polychlorinated biphenyls--also known as PCBs--a toxic chemical used in coolant fluid.

The PCBs, which are concentrated on the edge of the property, will not be removed because the flats are likely to be contaminated again by upstream pollution.

"We've looked at the PCBs and they are the product of industrial activities that occurred along the river upstream from here," explained Misslin. "The overall plan the Environmental Protection Agency has for cleaning rivers, is to start upstream and clean down. If we go out and clean the mudflats tomorrow, after a few storms they're [PCBs] back."

The project, however, will completely clean the site where the park will be located and measures will be taken to restrict access to the contaminated flats.

The effort will remove a number of dangerous toxins from the property, including heavy metals such as lead, chromium, and nickel.

Once the clean-up is completed, improvements including landscaping, benches, walking paths, fences, and signs will be made to the area. The site's rotting seawalls and the debris that has collected at the site over the years, will also be removed. The majority of the salt marshes and pillions that surround the site will be left untouched, in addition to the granite seawalls by the Neponset River Greenway Trail. A sidewalk will be constructed on the park side of Taylor Street and privacy fencing and plantings will also be added.

Recreational additions to the park will be limited, but the park will be designed in a way that new features can be added as money becomes available.

"We're trying to create a blank canvas so we can add things down the road," said Misslin. "We have x number of dollars and we have to do the remediation and after that we can add stuff."

The park site will retain one of the building foundations that currently exist at the site, to act as an amphitheater and gathering space. No new parking will be added to the property, but adjacent DCR maintenance sites will provide a handful of parking spaces for park users.

Attendees of Tuesday's meeting praised DCR for finally getting the project going.

"I think you have listened and [the plan] is what we have pictured," said Maria Lyons, a long-time advocate for the property. "There's not much to complain about."

For neighbors, the project has been a long time coming, but its redevelopment will also have the potential to impact residents as far away as Mattapan and South Boston. The park is positioned along the Neponset River Greenway Trail, a nearly nine-mile path that, once completed, will link a number of Boston neighborhoods and communities.

"The original vision of the greenway, is to connect the harbor to the hills," explained Candice Cook, a program manager for the Boston Natural Areas Network, one of the group's behind the greenway. "This is absolutely part of that vision and it's wonderful to see it happening."

Although the residents were largely positive at the meeting, there were still some critiques and concerns.

"My concern is a migration of contaminated materials during excavation," said Stephen White, who represented the Port Norfolk Yacht Club.

White said dredging by the club has turned up a number of contaminates that weren't there before, costing members and business money.

Others had concerns about grading and how the removal of the seawalls might impact flooding.

Misslin said the site will be graded so that water will flow to the river and that the site could act as a buffer during a storm, utilizing natural features like marshes to protect properties.

"The amount, the intensity, and the duration of storms have changed," said Misslin. "We're trying to deal with that over the long-term and we look as this property as a buffer during a storm."

Although there was visible excitement in the room, the project needs a number of approvals before any shovels hit the ground.

Over the spring and summer, DCR officials will work to secure the necessary permits to redevelop the site, including the sign-off of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Massachusetts Historic Commission, and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

Once permitting is completed, the project is expected to go out to bid by the fall of 2014, with a contractor hired by late 2014. Redevelopment work could begin by early 2015, with construction anticipated to take 18 months.

The project's consultant team includes GEI Consultants, Halvorson Design Partnership, and Epilson Associates.

For more information about the project, click here.

To provide comments about the project, email dcr.updates@state.ma.us or call (617) 626-4974. Comments are due by March 4.

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