Developer discusses plans for tannery

NASHUA – Real estate developer Bernie Plante believes he can successfully contain the toxic sludge at the former Mohawk Tannery property – and construct new apartments and condominiums at what is currently a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site.

“I take this very seriously,” Plante said said Wednesday while speaking to a large audience at the United Way of Greater Nashua Building on Broad Street.

Plante said he is prepared to put up $8 million to clean and contain the toxic sludge and asbestos at the Mohawk Tannery property as part of his commercial development plans. Residents of the neighborhood near the Mohawk site were eager to hear the remediation plans, though most want a full removal of the contaminated sludge rather than the containment plan offered.

Darren Santos, an environmental consultant hired by Plante who is working with the EPA, said the current plan is to construct a secant wall — a wall of interlocking tubes made of concrete, clay, and sand — around the two sludge lagoons on the tannery site. The plan then is to move the sludge into the contained lagoons. The lagoons will then be capped. Behind the lagoons, a concrete cell will be constructed for the asbestos contamination. That cell will be sealed off as well.

The total cost for the proposed containment is about $10 million, with Plante bearing much of that burden. By comparison, removing the materials from the site is estimated to cost about $30 million, assuming a location can be found to take the sludge. Once the remediation is done, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services will begin monitoring the site.

Operations at the tannery took place from the 1920s to the 1980s. During this time, the sludge lagoons at the tannery were filled with fat, hair, flesh, and other byproducts of the leather tanning process, Santos said. As the lagoons got too full, material was buried on other parts of the property and at the nearby Fimbel Door site. The sludge pits are now mostly dried out, and one was capped with sand.

Although the sludge is contaminated with chemicals such as barium, dioxin, arsenic and chromium, Santos said the contaminants are not considered volatile – and they are not, at the moment, leaching into the Nashua River.

Plante has been working with the city since the the Donnalee Lozeau mayoral administration to purchase a six-acre property off the Broad Street Parkway, as well as the Fimbel Door property behind it. Combined with the tannery property, Plante would have close to 40 acres. Once the remediation is complete, the properties will yield about 35 developable acres, he said. This could mean hundreds of housing units in an apartment complex development, or a condominium project.

Plante said remediation and development will take about 30 months to complete once the project begins.

The EPA is still taking public comments about the project from Nashua residents. More information about the project can be found at www.epa.gov/superfund/mohawk. A site visit for those interested in the project is scheduled for September.

Damien Fisher can be reached at 594-1245 or dfisher@nashuatelegraph.com or @Telegraph_DF.