Ft. Devens Case Study
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Last Updated April 1999
Fort Devens Site
Contaminated soil and groundwater from almost 80 years of military operations
Large-scale public and private reuse and redevelopment
Revitalization of local economy with jobs and income, spending, and public revenues, and enhanced social and ecological benefits
What do a federal prison hospital, a wildlife refuge, and the Gillette Corporation have in common? Each has a role in one of the largest redevelopment projects in Massachusetts' history. The transformation is taking place at Fort Devens, a military base that closed its gates in 1996 after almost 80 years of service. When the base closed, more than 7,000 jobs were lost, contaminated soil and groundwater were left behind, and the economies of several nearby towns that were historically tied to the Army base were placed at risk. Today, however, the site is reemerging as a thriving business center that is restoring the area's economic health. What follows is the story of how EPA worked with others to clean up and help return the base to productive use, and the economic impacts and environmental and social benefits that resulted.
Only 35 miles west of Boston, the 9,400-acre U.S. Army facility was established in 1917 as a temporary training camp for soldiers during World War I. In 1931, the camp became a permanent installation and grew to include three main areas, the Main Post, North Post, and South Post. The land surrounding the base is primarily rural and residential. There are 3,500 households within two miles. The four nearby towns of Ayer, Shirley, Lancaster, and Harvard have also been historically tied to the Army base. The Nashua River and many of its tributaries run directly through the base. Wetlands border the banks of the Nashua River and the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge is located just below the southern boundary of the Main Post. At its peak, 15,000 military personnel and their families lived on the Fort Devens base. However, military cutbacks forced the base to close in 1996. The many years of military operations resulted in more than 80 areas of possible hazardous waste contamination. Because of the threat, EPA added Fort Devens to the Agency's list of hazardous waste sites needing cleanup.
From Military Waste...
Three areas of contamination that were of particular concern to EPA were the maintenance yard and municipal landfill on the Main Post, and the airfield on the North Post. At the maintenance yard, military vehicles had leaked fuel and oil onto the unpaved ground, and underground storage tanks had leaked waste oil that contaminated the surrounding soil. The deteriorating landfill was threatening to contaminate the groundwater with arsenic. At the North Post, chemicals used by the Army to clean its parachutes were detected in the groundwater under the airfield.
To address the contamination, representatives from the Army, EPA, and the State of Massachusetts formed the Fort Devens Base Realignment and Closure Cleanup Team (BCT). Together with the surrounding communities, the BCT developed a cleanup plan that was consistent with projected uses of the base. The plan for the maintenance yard calls for covering a portion of the area with asphalt, so it can be used as a parking lot. Similarly, the landfill was covered with a special cap to contain the contamination, which has made it possible to use the area for recreational purposes. At the airfield, soil areas with extensive solvent contamination have been removed and the groundwater is now being treated. To date, the BCT has completed more than 40 cleanup actions, including removal and disposal of asbestos and contaminated underground storage tanks, building debris, and scrap metals. Additional cleanup is planned or under way at the other contaminated areas on the site.
...To Mass Redevelopment
Approximately 5.6 million square feet of land and more than two million square feet of existing buildings and facilities on the base have the potential for reuse because of their location and access to major highways and rail service. As part of the redevelopment, the Department of Defense (DoD) transferred large portions of the site to other federal departments and the state. DoD retained control of 5,000 acres of land, including all of the South Post and portions of the Main and North Posts, for construction of a new Army Reserve enclave and training area. Land given up by DoD became what is now called the Devens Commerce Center. Twenty-two acres belong to the Department of Labor for a Jobs Corp Center. The Department of Justice is building a Federal Bureau of Prisons Hospital on 222 acres, and the Fish and Wildlife Service has taken over 836 acres along the Nashua River for an extension to the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge. The remainder of the Main and North Posts was transferred to the Massachusetts Government Land Bank (MassDevelopment) which was empowered by the state legislature to promote and oversee private development, and to issue bonds and borrow up to $2 million to support the redevelopment. Prior to any private development, the state legislature required a plan that would outline future use of the former base. This plan, called the Devens Reuse Plan, was prepared by MassDevelopment and representatives from the surrounding towns of Ayer, Harvard, and Shirley. The plan lays out the preferred types of reuse of the base, which are: innovation and technology; business and community services; environmental business; research and development; rail, industry and trade; and open space and recreation. The state legislature also created incentives to encourage private sector interest in the area, including designating the site as a State Economic Target and Opportunity Area, establishing wholesale utility rates, eliminating personal property tax, and providing reduced rates for water and wastewater treatment. Today, dozens of facilities have been built or are currently under construction. One of these is the 410,000 square foot warehouse and distribution center built by the Gillette Corporation. Other companies planning to occupy the site include industrial manufacturing, and computer software and graphics firms.
For years, stores, restaurants, and other establishments in the towns surrounding Fort Devens relied on military personnel and their families for their business. When the base gradually shut down, people lost their jobs and businesses lost many of their patrons. But the cleanup and redevelopment of the base have turned things around economically, while also creating social and environmental benefits. Hundreds of new jobs on the former base, both permanent and temporary, have generated a substantial amount of income and local spending. More than 2,500 permanent jobs are expected when the Devens Reuse Plan is fully implemented, bringing in an estimated $70 million in annual income. This growth will increase property values, lead to further spending, and contribute to the public's revenues through local and state taxes.
In addition to economic impacts, the land and groundwater are being restored and sensitive areas such as wetlands, the Nashua River, and the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge are being protected and enhanced. Several endangered or threatened plant and animal species also inhabit the area and are being protected throughout the cleanup and redevelopment. Finally, the turnaround at the site has led to several social benefits, such as preservation of the surrounding communities.
Keys to Success
The site's ideal location, its building and transportation infrastructure, and state-sponsored economic incentives made the former installation attractive for businesses. However, it was the partnerships formed among federal, state, and local government agencies, and community members that assured successful reuse of the site. As a member of the BCT, EPA helped to integrate many of the investigations of the site, which saved $5 million dollars and years of study. EPA and the BCT also worked closely to plan and carry out the cleanup and redevelopment, and worked with the local communities to ensure that their voices were heard. The Devens Enterprise Commission and MassDevelopment created and implemented a plan for redevelopment that is bringing in the types of businesses envisioned for the area. With these ingredients in place, reuse of the site is progressing, promising to ensure the continued growth and prosperity of the area.
For more information about the cleanup and redevelopment of the Ft. Devens site, contact:
James P. Byrne, Remedial Project Manager
U.S. EPA Region 1
JFK Federal Building (HAN-CAN1)
Boston, MA 02203
Jim Chambers, BRAC Environmental Coordinator
Department of the Army
Devens Reserve Force Training Area 33
Quebec Street Box 100
Devens, MA 01432
(978) 769-3133 (fax)
Jim DeLorenzo, Beneficial Uses Coordinator
U.S. EPA Region 1
90 Canal Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02114