BELFAST – From downtown revitalization, to transportation-related projects, the city of Belfast has been increasingly successful at getting grant money. But in a somewhat ironic turn of events, one of the city's quieter grant-funded projects, offering environmental assessments to owners of potentially polluted former industrial properties, has put a damper on its most expansive public works effort in years, the Belfast Harbor Walk.
Construction on the pedestrian and hiking promenade, slated to run from the Belfast Boathouse to the Armistice Bridge (footbridge) and eventually across the river to Footbridge Road, was scheduled to go out to bid in October, but was pushed back to December after contaminated soil was discovered on a stretch of city property near the former Belfast Boatyard, according to City Planner Wayne Marshall.
Marshall told the City Council on Wednesday that the project has been put on hold after a grant-funded brownfield assessment of the former Belfast Boatyard property accidentally included soil samples from adjacent city land between the Boatyard and the former Maskers Theater building. The contaminated soil was in area that would crossed by the Harbor Walk.
The evaluation done by Ransom Consulting attributed the presence of the contaminants to past uses of the site, including coal storage and distribution, and also potential off-site sources including the historic use of the site for railroad operations, past catastrophic fires and "potentially minor releases of oil and/or hazardous materials (OHM) during the Site’s use as a boatyard and marina."
The area was determined to be safe for future commercial uses, but the city took precautions in light of its preposed redevelopment as the Harbor Walk.
Marshall said the city removed 100 cubic yards of top soil and gravel, to a depth of 15 inches, and replaced it with clean fill. The removed soil is currently under a tarp near Front Street. The soil is eligible be reused as fill for a project in which the soil would be capped, such as under a road or sidewalk, Marshall said.
In the meantime, he said, the city has applied for a Voluntary Remediation Action Program permit from the Department of Enviromental Protection that would allow the project to move forward. Marshall said he believes the city will have that permit within 10 days and that the project could be put out to bid sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
In an additional hitch to the Harbor Walk project, a $250,000 Maine Department of Transportation/Federal Highway Administration grant to be used for the Harbor Walk has been delayed over questions about whether the northern boardwalk portion of the Harbor Walk, built by Front Street Shipyard, will meet the agencies' specifications. Marshall said the city is working with Camden-based engineering firm Gartley & Dorsky to evaluate what needs to be done, and that Front Street Shipyard will do whatever additional work is required.
Councilor Eric Sanders joked that Marshall had until the end of 2013 to break ground on the project, to which Marshall responded if it took that long, "I won't be standing at this podium."
Penobscot Bay Pilot reporter Ethan Andrews can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org