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.