Waste Site Cleanup & Reuse in New England
US EPA Brownfields Programs Enables the Redevelopment of Two Contaminated Sites in the Portland, ME Bayside Project
Success in EPA Brownfields Cleanup Revolving Loan Fund Grant Program
(December 3, 2003)
The vacant rail yard on the Portland Peninsula has sat unused and contaminated for twenty years. With the help of two US EPA Brownfields Assessment Grants totaling $435,000 and a $500,000 grant to the city through the EPA Brownfields Cleanup Revolving Loan Fund Program, the citizens of this major New England downtown are set to reclaim two key portions of what residences and city officials call the Bayside area. The two sites, with a combined acreage of 0.85, are near Marginal Way in Portland. With the help of EPA Brownfields funding, the city of Portland Department of Planning and Development will use $175,000 of the half million dollar Revolving Loan Fund to transform these two sites into additional parking and create an important extension to Chestnut Street that will later be occupied by businesses, homes, apartments, and more.
One of the oldest ports in the nation, the Casco Bay town of Portland is today one of Maine’s largest cities. The historic shipping town has a population of just over 64,000 residents, over 8% of which are minorities, and an average household income of $35,650 in 1999. Despite this average level of income over 1,300 families or almost 10% are below the poverty line in the ocean city. Although unemployment rates are low at just 3.3% in 2000, the city is still in need of new business, additional and improved parking, and affordable housing in its urban locations, including the large 6-acre rail yard parcel in the 14 acre site called Bayside.
The Bayside area, located between the tidal flat of Back Cove and the city’s bustling downtown, has an almost one-hundred year history of heavy industrial use. The land was manmade using debris from the infamous Portland fire of 1865, which destroyed nearly all of the historic downtown. Debris from the destroyed buildings was dumped into the ocean waters of Back Cove and the land was eventually filled in by various companies. The rail yard, which takes up a majority of the Bayside brownfield, was constructed in 1910 on the newly formed land by a company today called, Guilford Transportation Co. The rail yard, which includes miles of track, transported cargo until it was taken out of service in the 1980s. The rail yard sat vacant, unused, and contaminated for the last 20 years until it was bought by the state of Maine in 2002 and consequently purchased by the city of Portland one year later. The site is characterized by what Mayor Nicholas Mavodones, Jr. referred to as “disinvestment and urban blight” in his 2000 plan for Bayside brownfield redevelopment.
“This plan envisions the transformation of Bayside,” Mayor Mavodones said of the ambitious long-term solution in the 2000 plan for redevelopment. “The redevelopment of Bayside...is not only important for maintaining a sustainable and competitive local economy, but also to provide good jobs, adequate housing and a reasonable tax burden for Portland citizens.”
The Bayside redevelopment plan took over two years of community and local government cooperation to create. Community and civic groups, including the Bayside Task Force, the growing Bayside Neighborhood Association, the city council, and the city of Portland Planning Board have worked together to create the all-encompassing plan that will make Bayside an attractive urban gateway and extension of the downtown business district. The plan calls for a rejuvenation of abandoned properties like the rail road parcel. Plans for redevelopment include the addition of housing complexes, shops, businesses, open spaces, community and civic centers, and additional parking for the growing and gorgeous downtown area.
The inspired plan found its foundations through a $200,000 EPA Assessment Grant from the EPA Brownfields Program in 1996. The Assessment Grant enabled Tewhey Associates, an independent environmental contractor, to assess the levels and types of contamination present at the rail yard parcel and other areas of the Bayside brownfields site in April 1998 and make recommendations on cleanup efforts in March of 1999. Armed with this information the city of Portland was able to create realistic and environmentally conscious plans for Bayside brownfield improvement.
With preliminary assessments complete, the EPA Brownfields Program stepped in again in 1999 to aid in Bayside clean up with a half million dollar Brownfields Cleanup Revolving Loan Fund. The city of Portland then set up the Downtown Portland Corporation (DPC) to manage allocation and eventual repayment of the loan. This large grant gave Portland the funds to launch a major cleanup effort within Bayside, which was divided into targeted parcels for cleanup and redeveloped independently with Loan Fund monies.
The smaller of the two sites, a property owned by 161 Marginal Way, LLC , is a 0.25 acre space that runs from the 161 Marginal Way location to the current end of Chestnut Street. The larger site of 0.6 acres is also owned by 161 Marginal Way, LLC and the Five Liver Company. This site is currently occupied by the Department of Human Services building.
EPA Brownfields Program awarded an additional $135,000 Assessment Grant to Portland in 2001 to assess the contamination and offer cleanup options. This assessment was a follow up to the original site assessment. Tewhey Associates completed the assessment of these two blighted properties in July 2003. Results showed that soil contaminant concentrations exceeded the 1997 Maine DEP Remedial Action Guidelines. The black-stained shallow soil samples included high concentrations of both arsenic and lead and fragments of coal, cinders, and ash.
In August of 2003, the DPC loaned $175,000 of the original half-million dollar grant to the city of Portland to help complete an important phase of Bayside redevelopment- the transformation of two sites in the aforementioned rail road parcel. The funds were borrowed by the city from the DPC and will paid back within five years from either sale of real estate owned by the city in the Bayside area or from city general funds. The rate on the DCP loan is 0%.
Through the $175,000 EPA Brownfields Cleanup Revolving Loan Fund allocation, the two sites will be cleaned-up to make way for an important extension of Chestnut Street. Both sites are in the process of remediation by the city of Portland and construction will begin on the parking lot in October 2003 and the Chestnut extension in Spring 2004. Potential contractors will go through a rigorous proposal process at that time and the city will decide on a construction company for the momentous extension.
As a result of the extension, the swelling downtown will move even closer to the beautiful bay area. The smaller of the two parcels will be used for the actual roadway extension and later for the placement of housing, businesses, shops, and community centers. The larger of the parcels will be used for additional parking for the Department of Human Services.
The cleanup of these two properties will enable the plan for Bayside redevelopment to break new ground in the fight for both economic and environmental success. The Chestnut Street extension paves the way for a growing and more environmentally conscious downtown Portland.