EPA investigating old Bennington dumping site
BENNINGTON — The federal Environmental Protection Agency is investigating an extensive former waste dumping site in woods along Furnace Brook in Bennington.
Gary Lipson, on-scene coordinator with the EPA's Emergency Response and Removal Program, said a five-person team from Weston Solutions, dressed in white hazmat protective clothing and assisted by an excavation contractor, were in the area for four days, beginning June 4.
The investigators collected samples from among the apparent business, industrial and construction wastes and private refuse, which is visible in areas along the brook and half buried in embankments about 500 yards along a pathway from Furnace Brook Road. Waste material there appears several feet deep and deposited in layers.
Old tires, auto wheels and other metal parts, rusted 55-gallon drums, broken glass, cans and other waste can be found in spots and concentrated in mounds close to the Route 279 overpass.
The land is bisected by an unpaved public right-of-way off Furnace Brook Road, roughly the width of a logging road. It is used for hiking, off-road vehicle travel and similar purposes. Hiking paths lead into the woods and up embankments off the right-of-way and on both sides of the brook.
The EPA also drilled some shallow monitoring wells, from 6 to 10 feet deep, Lipson said. Laboratory results from waste material, soil and water testing are expected in about a month, he said, after which EPA officials will discuss the results with the town, the landowners and Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation officials.
Those discussions are expected to lead to a determination of what further action might be required to deal with possible environmental contamination.
Lipson said Thursday that such actions could range from putting up warning signs concerning the former dump to fencing to requiring the removal of all the waste material. He said it is too early in the investigation to make those determinations.
Potentially responsible parties
An assessment of potentially responsible parties for the dumping likewise hasn't yet been made, Lipson said. Under federal Superfund legislation, he said, "there are four classes of potentially responsible parties, or PRPs: current owners/operators of a facility; owners/operators at the time of disposal; generators and parties who arranged for disposal or transport of hazardous substances; and transporters who selected where hazardous substances were brought."
At this point, he said, the EPA is "undertaking an environmental investigation to determine if there is contamination and if so, the extent of that contamination. This information will inform the decision of whether a federal removal action is warranted. If not, the site will be referred back to the state."
If a federal action is recommended, the EPA will identify potentially responsible parties through various means, such as historical research, interviews, and review of environmental data, Lipson said.
The investigation was requested by the state Department of Environmental Conservation after the agency received reports of historic dumping activity involving several parcels of land east of Furnace Brook and just south of the Route 279 overpass. The public right-of-way that bisects the land is known as TH-85.
Town Manager Stuart Hurd said the property "was owned by Willie [William] Morse and may have been used as a construction debris dump site more than 45 years ago."
According to Planning Director Daniel Monks, "We do know that it was never a municipally owned or operated site."
Morse, who died in November 2000, was a well-known contractor and businessman after whom the Morse State Airport in Bennington is named.
The property has since been subdivided, Hurd said, and the state purchased some of the land for a segment of Route 279, the Bennington Bypass highway.
Lipson said four parties were notified of the investigation, including the town, because of the right-of-way, the state Agency of Transportation, because of the nearby highway; Keith and Francine Jelley, who own some of the land, and another property owner in the area who may or may not own land within the dumping site.
Exact boundaries will be determined through survey work, he said.
According to records at the Bennington assessor's office, the Jelleys did not purchase their land until August 2003, from Eva Jane Cole, who previously acquired it from trustees of the William Morse Living Trust.
Some testing of the material and samples was conducted on-site in a mobile laboratory, while other samples were sent to the EPA's New England region lab facility in Chelmsford, Mass., Lipson said. Other work is being done at a private lab facility.
Lipson said the hazmat suits, which apparently concerned some residents who saw them, are used as a precaution in waste site investigations, "because you never know what you will find," and some hazardous material might release airborne contaminants.
However, he said that in this case, there was an added benefit for the investigation crew members: "There were ticks all over, and mud," he said.
Prior to beginning the site visit, the EPA handed out flyers to residences in the area explaining what the activity would entail.
The flyer gives Lipson's email address, email@example.com, along with an EPA website for further information, www.epa.gov/region1, and a toll-free customer service phone number, 1-888-epa-7341.
Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont and VTDigger.org. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. @BB_therrien on Twitter.
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