By Jonathan Phelps
---- — IPSWICH — The town is moving forward with a possible deal to buy the 64-acre site of the former U.S. Air Force antenna-testing facility on Skytop Road.
The Air Force closed the facility in the summer of 2011 and is in the process of demolishing all the structures on the property, at the request of the landowners.
“The town had always been interested in acquiring and protecting that property if and when the lease expired,” said Selectman Pat McNally. “We have discussed it with the proprietors, but there’s no deal.”
The facility, on Ipswich’s Great Neck peninsula, was used for testing and research on Cold War-era antenna and radar technology. The Air Force has leased the property from the Proprietors of Great Neck, a family group that owns the land, since 1945.
The land sits atop a large hill in a residential neighborhood, overlooking the Parker River–Plum Island Sound estuary, and is assessed at $800,300.
McNally, who has lived on Great Neck since 1976, said Kristen Grubbs, the town’s open space program manager, is working on the details of a possible deal. Grubbs could not be reached for comment.
McNally said he is hoping the proprietors will work with the town to come up with a “reasonable deal.” The purchase would open up the land to everyone in town, he noted.
“There is a great view from the property,” McNally said. “Great Neck is overbuilt, and there is a need for open space for habitat for animals and passive and active recreation.”
The town purchased 85 acres of open space on Great Neck in 2007 with the help of state and federal grants. The town paid $283,000 of the $1.7 million price tag.
McNally said buying the former testing site will allow the town to have contiguous open space in the area with trails that access Clark Pond.
“It would be wonderful to have a place to walk that is not on the road,” he said.
Another possibility would be building playing fields on part of the land, McNally said.
In accordance with the terms of their lease, the Air Force will “return the site to a vegetated state,” according to a May 2012 environmental report the Air Force completed on the Ipswich facility. All structures are to be demolished, including driveways, paved areas and a chain-link fence around the property; buried utility lines and oil storage tanks will also be removed.
A 2002 archaeological study identified a “pre-contact Native American site” on the property. The Air Force developed an “archaeological site protection plan” last year to ensure that the Native American area will not be disturbed during demolition.
The main buildings have already been demolished. The work is expected to last until Oct. 19.
“The intent of the project is to restore the site to conditions similar to those encountered on the site when the U.S. Air Force first occupied the location,” said Tim Dugan, a spokesman for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Staff writer Jonathan Phelps can be reached at 978-338-2527 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at JPhelps_SN.