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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Photech Demolition Underway

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Wednesday, August 24, 2005

An excavator rips into a its' work at the 330 Cole Avenue Photech mill on Aug. 24.
Williamstown – Precision operation of an excavator at the 330 Cole Avenue Photech building on Aug. 24 was but a preview of what’s to come; a much larger excavator boasting a 60-foot reach is scheduled to arrive at the property later this week and dig in to a long-awaited partial demolition project.

The work is under control of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and is centered on a collapsed center portion of the massive building abandoned in 1989 by its’ owners. The EPA-funded demolition and clean-up is expected to cost about $878,000, according to information made available by the federal agency.

Demolition and Remediation

Work includes demolition of the asbestos-riddled collapsed area, removal of the original structure’s severely deteriorated northern section, and implementing specific measures to protect the Hoosic River and adjacent areas from asbestos contamination as the work progresses.

The original building was erected during the mid-1800s; a southern section built in 1944 will be left intact.

EPA On-Site Coordinator Daniel Wainberg was not available for comment about the project, however EPA Region 1 official Michael Barry, who was previously involved with the site, was able to discuss the project on Aug. 24.

The Photech property’s proximity to the Hoosic River was a factor in choosing an excavator with a long reach capability, Barry said.

“The river is a source of extra concern,” he said. “We are being extra careful and that’s one reason why we are getting a 60-foot arm, for more dexterity. The reach allows people to stand off a little bit more and pull the stuff in [toward the property as opposed to pushed forward toward the river].”

The added distance between the building and the workers made possible by the excavator’s reach will also decrease risk to the crews, Barry said.

The project site will be wetted down as work proceeds so that dust can be controlled and the EPA will test and monitor the air while demolition and material removal is underway. Contaminated materials are slated for transport to a licensed hazardous material facility; any additional hazardous materials discovered as work progresses will be appropriately handled as part of the project. The job is expected to be completed over an eight-week period, according to information made available by the EPA.

The project’s general contractor is the Shaw Environmental and Infrastructure Inc. a subsidiary of the Louisiana-based Shaw Group; on Aug. 24, workers employed by subcontractor Weston Solutions, Inc. were on the premises. Both companies have extensive experience with environmentally-challenging undertakings. The Weston firm was involved in the World Trade Center response, the recovery of debris from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster and the Housatonic River remediation. Company offices are located throughout the world and include Massachusetts-based offices in Pittsfield, Wilmington, and Boston.

Superfund Removal Program Funding

There is no town financial contribution for the work. Project funding was secured from an EPA Superfund account that distributes revenues to the Superfund Removal Program. Barry stressed that the Photech property is not on the national Superfund priority property list and is not designated as a Superfund site.

“It is Superfund money but this is not a Superfund site,” Barry said, and explained that the removal program is focused on time critical “in and out” types of projects, not the years-long work often associated with Superfund designated sites. A local example of a project that carried a Superfund designation is the completed Pownal Tannery clean-up in Pownal, Vt..

EPA Involvement

Town officials requested assistance from the EPA Region 1 Emergency Planning and Response division in August 2003, after a partial roof collapse that sliced through the building's mid-section. Heavy rains were later deemed the cause of the collapse. In 2003, Barry was the EPA on-site coordinator, and after a detailed preliminary site assessment, he recommended a “time critical removal action” for the site in a report filed in October 2003.

The EPA has been previously involved in Photech clean-up work. In 1997, the agency oversaw a $552,964 removal of hazardous materials from the property. About 188 tons of sludge, 1,800 pounds of lab-packed materials, 500 empty drums, 32 drums that contained hazardous materials, 40 cubic yards of asbestos, and eight compressed gas cylinders that contained chemicals such as Freon, methanol, hydrogen, and ammonia were among the materials transported from the property during that effort.

The town has also participated in site clean-up work; in 2002, after receiving a $750,000 state grant, town officials oversaw the removal and disposal of asbestos-contaminated materials from the northern and southern sections of the site. The town has also removed soil contaminated by a variety of metals from the site, stabilized the riverbank, and handled site access restrictions.

Property Owners Seem Missing Without A Trace

Unpaid property taxes and utility bills have piled up yearly since the site’s owners suddenly shut down a photographic paper manufacturing business and tossed numerous employees from their jobs unexpectedly. The total of revenue owed the town is now estimated at over $1 million; efforts to locate the property owners have been unsuccessful over the years. Town officials have not acquired ownership of the property, although the option to do so exists, because of the liability associated with owning the property.

Information about Shaw Environmental and Infrastructure Inc. may be acquired at a www.shawgrp.com web site. Information about Weston Solutions Inc. is available at a www.westonsolutions.com web site.

Additional information about the Photech project is available at a www.epa.gov/region1 web site.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush123@adelphia.net or at 802-823-9367.
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