BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — BEVERLY — The city has reversed course in a dispute with National Grid over a multimillion-dollar cleanup of contaminated soil on the company’s property next to the Bass River.
After first insisting that the soil be dug up and taken away, the city is allowing the company to proceed with a less expensive plan to keep the soil in place with underground steel walls.
The change of heart came after National Grid sued the city over a 2011 ruling by the Conservation Commission that said the soil should either be trucked off site or moved to a different location on the property, away from the Bass River.
Conservation Commission Chairman David Lang said the city determined that a legal battle would be too costly and difficult to win, so it decided to negotiate a settlement.
“We got what we felt was a reasonable outcome for the city to protect the resources for the Bass River,” Lang said. “You don’t want to waste a lot of resources and end up in court for a lengthy period of time for a trial.”
The $5.2 million cleanup, which involves the equivalent of more than 1,500 truckloads of soil, got under way last week and is expected to be completed this summer.
National Grid operates a gas and electrical plant at 44 River St., a 9.5-acre property along the Bass River, which is home to shellfish and striped bass. The property has been listed as a Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection waste site since 1991 due to hazardous waste left over from a gas plant that was there for nearly a century.
The soil was contaminated over the years by leaking coal tar and includes carcinogenic materials such as arsenic, cyanide and lead.
In reaching the settlement, National Grid agreed to provide a thicker layer of soil for plantings along the river, create additional wetlands on the property, and pay $12,000 for the city to hire a company to monitor the cleanup and test the soil.
The public will also be given access to the property for the first time, with a public walkway from River Street down to the river.
National Grid filed a lawsuit in Superior Court in 2011, saying the Conservation Commission did not have the authority to impose its own solution.
The company said it would be twice as expensive to truck the contaminated soil and not necessarily better for the environment, and the cost would be passed along to its customers.
Instead, the company will contain the soil within 1,040 feet of underground, watertight steel pile walls and cap it with a 75,000-square foot barrier on top.
“I think it’ll be safe,” Lang said. “It would’ve been nice to have the material moved off the property because 50 or 100 years from now if this property is opened to the public it would be nice to have a clean property along the river. I don’t know how long the sheet piles will last underground. It will last 20 years, but I don’t know whether it will last 40 or 50 years. It’s going to begin to leak again.”
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.