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Thorough Manresa Island cleanup cost pegged at $31M to $60M

Lynn Willey of Tighe and Bond shows an aerial rendering of the current remediation approach being taken on Manresa Island.

Updated, 2:30 p.m.: PDF of PowerPoint presentation added. 

NORWALK, Conn. – A “shallow excavation” of part of Manresa Island would cost $31 million, a Licensed Environmental Professional told about 100 people Monday.

If you were to do the rest of “AOC-1,” it could be an additional $29.5 million, according to a slide shown by Lynn Willey of Tighe and Bond. Demolishing the island’s power plant could be between $6-9 million, but that’s just an estimate based on a similar plant, he said.

NRG, owner of the island and its power plant, has a $500,000 remediation plan in place, with a request to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) for a variance, he said. The power plant would remain as is, barriers would be installed to isolate the island’s contaminants and the industrial/commercial use would remain.

Willey was part of a presentation put on by Fitzgerald & Halliday, a firm hired by Norwalk and the Manresa Association to do a economic impact study of the island and its plant, a $150,000 cost that was split by the city and the Association.

DEEP can’t come up with a remediation plan for the coal-ash contaminated property until NRG specifies a use, Manresa Association President Charlie Taney said in December. If NRG doesn’t specify a use it doesn’t have to do remediation, which means no money will be spent, he said.

Taney, at Monday’s meeting, stressed that it would be great for NRG to participate in the study.

Three NRG reps sat through the meeting, and participated in the focus groups that ended the session. They made no speeches.

Francisco Gomes of Fitzgerald & Halliday began the presentation by showing photos from 1934, 1951 and 1965, to show how the island had grown. The marsh was filled in, possibly with fill that came from excavation and dredging and dredging, he said.

“It’s really a toxic dumping ground for coal ash,” he said.

The remediation cost estimates come from an evaluation the NRG was required to do, Willey said.

There are 12 areas of concern, but only four have serious issues; it would cost $19.7 million to excavate 22 acres of the 55 acre-Area of Concern 1 (AOC-1) 4 feet down, he said. The cost of excavating the 5.8 acre-AOC-4, which is along the water, 4 feet down would be $11.3 million.

This plan also continues the industrial/commercial designation.

There’s no information on what’s inside the power plant, but based on its age and typical construction of that period, it’s likely to have PCBs, asbestos and lead-based paint, all of which are very expensive to get rid of, he said.

The cost of demolishing a similar plant was between $6 million and $9 million, he said, calling that a placeholder estimate.

“It could be less, it could be more depending on the type of materials that are there and what’s been left inside,” Willey said. “There’s been no access and no information on that.  So again this is just a placeholder just to give you a magnitude of cost just of what it could be to take down the plant, if that’s the case.”

Although the site was completely flooded in 2012 by Superstorm Sandy, there’s no evidence of impact to Long Island Sound, he said.

The area off Manresa is an “essential fish habitat,” Anthony Zemba of Fitzgerald & Halliday, a wetlands scientist, said. Any development would need to be resilient to storm surges, but traditional methods, such as rip-rap, are no longer thought to effective.

Zemba showed slides of a rip rap shoreline in Stratford, saying that “table-sized boulders” were tossed about.

“Just because the site may be heavily armored with rip rap doesn’t mean it’s protected,” he said.

Of Manresa, Gomes said, “Much of the impounded coal ash is protected basically by rip rap shoreline. Had Hurricane Sandy breached that area it would have spread that contaminated area through the shore and severely impacted that fishery…. The contaminants are isolated to the site but that site, that coast needs to remain preserved in order to keep those contaminants in place.”

He went on to list possible uses for the property, saying that the strongest market was for residential use.

There was a lot of remediation done at the Salem Harbor Power Station in Massachusetts to prepare it for housing, but it’s been ready for a few years with no takers yet, he said.

The plant could undergo a coal to biomass conversion, probably burning woodchips to produce energy, an idea that’s popular in Europe, he said.  More locally, solar panel installations are popular.

Modernizing the plant is probably very unlikely, with an owner-controlled decommission more probable, he said.

An online survey had attracted 489 responses, with 51 percent of the respondents reporting that they live within 5 miles of the island, he said.

Respondents listed possible environmental contamination as their chief concern, with potential uses that are incompatible with the neighborhood coming in second.

After the presentation, about 30 people remained to discuss their thoughts on the island for about 30 minutes.

“No high-rise condos,” was the word from the first group to issue a report, while the second, which included Mike Mushak and Lisa Wilson Grant, suggested taking down the large power plant building and leaving the smaller one, to include an artistic usage.

The third group said the structures should be taken down and the property should become part of a wildlife refuge.

The next step for Fitzgerald & Halliday is to test uses, Gomes said, explaining that another public outreach session may be held in July.

ManresaWorkshopPresentation-052217

17 comments

Rick May 23, 2017 at 10:51 am

It was once said the power plant use to test weekly around the outside ring of the property making sure if there was any contamination it wasn’t NRGs but those points of contamination coming from Lajoies or the old superfund site on Woodward ave.

The term closed power station is deceiving ,most of us familiar with the station were told the power plant is receiving power to maintain equipment still in reserve at the station from Long island.

The other questions that should of been addressed was why has the power company worked recently to replace lines some installed years ago if closing the plant was an option?

More specifics for the money spent on other issues didn’t seem to come up is concerning.

It should of been pointed out the remediation that has taken place to date,we again under the impression consolidation of all the liquid waste and cleaning two of the large above ground tanks into the third tank was to have happened.

This allows treatment of waste on site eliminating the need of a lot of tanker and dumpster traffic.This I would think if true would be nice for the residents to hear that not only is the power company working towards some remediation but has some plans. This would also ensure the city understands the dangers to its emergency response and input from environmental officer whats going on at the plant.

Was there a report from the fire dept? Do they know what exists on site? Have they been able to come up with a plan in case there needs be an evacuation

From what we read unknown conditions that exist at the power station could be a concern at least o those who live next door.

This article was informative but does open up a lot of questions ,the next meeting may answer most of the things that seem to be out there not in the hands of those paying for the study.

The Norwalker May 23, 2017 at 1:50 pm

Right outside the gate there are high pressure tanks of some kind of substance. I wonder what they are using them for?

Also since the grounds are surrounded on three sides by water, how will they take the smokestack down without using explosives to collapse it?

Lisa Wilson Grant May 23, 2017 at 2:26 pm

Note: I was the spokesperson for our table and rattled off ALL the ideas, not just the one attributed in the article.

Bill Nightingale, Jr May 23, 2017 at 4:22 pm

Unless Norwalk pursues extreme legal action against NRG you can all expect that power plant to remain there rusting away for a very very long time.

Bryan Meek May 23, 2017 at 5:53 pm

Put the commercial interests North of the Strofolino Bridge on Manresa. Replace both bridges with fixed ones for a fraction of the cost and minimal disruption to the corridor.

NonPartisan May 24, 2017 at 6:54 pm

Yes Brian- I would love to have my property values decrease with a concrete plant in my front yard.

Bryan Meek May 24, 2017 at 11:23 pm

@NP. It was a power plant for over half a century so unless you bought around WW2 you really don’t have some claim to preventing similar use there. Still, the ideal usage would be some type of maritime academy like SUNY Maritime, which has the highest paid graduates of any 4 year program in the country right now. The economical and practical move for the short term of 20 years would be to relocate up river businesses there and fix the bridges shut. Saves a billion right there. Not that anything practical happens around here much, but the city is bigger than just the needs of shorefront park.

NonPartisan May 25, 2017 at 6:49 am

@ Brian

There is well over 200mm in property that would be damaged with your plan. Not to mention the impact on the leisure boating industry.

Yes- the state would save some serious change. I’m not sure the different bridges have different long term economic impacts on the various bridge proposals- but moving a concrete plant to manresa would negatively impact the values of some of the highest real estate tax oaying properties in Norwalk.

Again- I agree with you that the state has better use of its money- but they could also buy the plant by eminent domain and put in a fixed bridge for a heck of a lot less.

NonPartisan May 25, 2017 at 6:58 am

@brian
the economic impact of your plan would reduce the grand list and real estate tax revenue by about 5mm a year

I don’t think it’s a great idea.

Donna May 25, 2017 at 7:01 am

@Bryan Meek, before Manresa was a power plant, Village Creek was established as a unique, racially and ethnically diverse and desegregated community (1949) at a time and in a place known for restrictive covenants. The suggestion that no one has a claim to oppose similar use should make us queasy. In all likelihood, when the developement of Manresa was approved in 1953 by the zoning commission, the Village Creek neighborhood probably did not have an activist presence, or the commission didn’t much care about protecting their property rights. I wonder why that would have been the case in Fairfield County in the early ’50s.

I have lived here less than one year, but I walk throughout South Norwalk. The visual impact of the power plant is felt most keenly in Village Creek, NOT in Shorefront Park. The economic impact on property values is felt mostly in Village Creek.

Because Village Creek came first, I do think we owe it to that neighborhood, which is on the National Historic Register, to take their needs into account when determining a long term plan for Manresa.

The mistakes of 1953 and later, when Norwalk passed on the opportunity to purchase the land, cannot be undone. But a positive outcome for this befouled waterfront property will benefit all of Norwalk. Is it worth a billion dollars (not sure about your math) to clean up an environmental problem in our backyard and reclaim the beauty of that shoreline? Depends on your definition of practical.

Bryan Meek May 25, 2017 at 8:08 am

The 20 to 30 trucks a day in and out of there could be a problem, but how would it possibly impact the boating industry having barges at the foot of Manresa as opposed to traveling up river? There’s also the distinct possibility that the land on the Norwalk River could be repurposed and generate revenues. Whatever the case, any repurposing of Manresa be it recreational, industrial, residential is going to generate more traffic through the neighborhood. How many residents live down there that bought there homes before knowing they were buying next to a power plant?

NonPartisan May 25, 2017 at 8:40 am

@brian

Regardless of what your saying your plan would

cause environmental harm to some of the most fragile environmental areas.

Cause millions of dollars in economic harm both to the current adjoining and nearby residences and estates.

Cause millions of dollars in economic harm to the city due to lost tax revenues

The proposal would Be a traffic nightmare. I can assure you your 20-30 trucks a day is way understated. If the existing plant, masonry and fuel distribution is only serving 20-30 ttuck a day it would not be an economically viable enterprise.

Bryan Meek May 25, 2017 at 10:28 am

You are starting to sound like the guy who lives across the street from the golf course that was there when he bought his house. I would love for the Merritt to have sound proof walls too since I live near it and I would love for you to pay for it. See how this works?

Donna May 25, 2017 at 1:59 pm

@Bryan, it is unfortunate to characterize those who support an appropriate clean-up and disposition of Manresa as NIMBYs. Some may be more motivated to repurpose the property for protected habitats or limited recreational use because they live in its shadow. But the principle neighborhoods affected pre-date the Manresa development. It’s as if Norwalk took half of its potential to attract wealth and squashed it under a giant blue cloud of toxic ash and concrete. The plant was decommissioned in 2013, so there are limited options for restoring this area to an industrial use. The neighbors who purchased with a power plant in their backyard would have grounds to object to any industrial re-use because the site has been inactive for so long. From what I can see, this is all B residential zoning.

NonPartisan May 25, 2017 at 3:48 pm

@ brian

I bought a house with a view of a decrepit decommissioned power plant that makes no noise, or smell

That is very different from a concrete plant that will wake me up at 5 or 6 am as they gear up six days a week.

Let’s also discuss the environmental impact. Are you aware of the pair of nesting bald eagles very near by the plant?

Let’s also remember that Devine is a fuel oil, propane, masonry supply and concrete company. All the environmental hazards that accompany this, the noise, the smell, the hours of operation.

Then put this in the front yards of the most valuable residential real estate in Norwalk. And tell me it won’t have an impact on real estate tax income. This clearly is not ” best use”

Bryan Meek May 25, 2017 at 5:35 pm

It’s not an envious position. Again, I think a UConn Maritime campus that competes with SUNY Maritime would be ideal, but I have no idea where that money would come from between abatement and shoring up the environment. I think we can all agree the existing structures can’t stay there indefinitely.

NonPartisan May 26, 2017 at 7:38 am

@bryan

Re- impact on leisure boating industry.

Right now the Feds are on the hook for dredginging commercial seaways. If you relocate Devine dredging stops at the break line for bloom brothers.

This means the city will be on the hook for a major portion of the cost of dredging- millions.

And if bloom brothers relocated-……..millions more.

Since this city doesn’t have the ability to absorb this in 50years you would have a great place to kyak.

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