PLYMOUTH - The old Mayfair Garage is one step closer to begin cleaned up and finding new life as a commercially viable property.
The Town Council recently approved the contract for a $750,000 state Department of Economic and Community Development grant to clean up the former gas station and auto repair facility at 142 Main St., to prepare it for redevelopment.
The town foreclosed on the half-acre property beside the Pequabuck River in 2016 and demolished the facility last year to prepare it for redevelopment. Mayor David Merchant has named the cleanup and development as one of his top priorities for this year.
At the council meeting, Amy Vaillancourt, a brownfields specialist with engineering and environmental consultant Tighe & Bond, explained the terms of the contract. She also addressed some residents’ concerns that the site was not worth spending so much of the state’s money to clean up.
The state continues to fund the brownfield cleanup program “because through the years that the state has had this program for every dollar invested in state funds they have a $5 to $8 turnaround,” Vaillancourt said. “So the municipalities end up reaping the rewards from this money.”
The Mayfair property is exactly the kind of situation the grant program was set up for, she said. “You foreclosed on a property, the owner passed away, in arrears in taxes. It’s sitting there contaminated, next to a river. Maybe the value is $150,000 to $160,000, but your cleanup is in the range of $750,000, so it’s completely upside down.”
“I’ve been doing this 20 years. You need to get the property right side up as best you can to get developer interest,” she said.
Vaillancourt has been working with the town since last year to develop a remedial action plan for the property and to get the state grant.
She explained that, back in 2010, some 7,000 gallons of gasoline spilled on the site and into the nearby Pequabuck River. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection paid the Coast Guard $1.1 million to clean up the worst of it. The DEEP also ordered the owner, Frank Fuller, to remove the gasoline tanks, but he couldn’t afford to do it. Fuller died in 2015.
It should have been handled differently in the past, Merchant said. “But nonetheless here we are today, and what we have in front of us here is a grant for $750,000 that will clean that site up and get it back on the tax rolls. We have had a lot of interest in that property and it would be hard to believe that it will go more than a year or so before we have that thing done.”
Vaillancourt said she has worked on about 50 similar projects in her career. Cleaning up gasoline contamination in water and soil is actually easier than other types of industrial pollution, and you only need to clean it to a commercial-industrial standard, which is not as high as a residential standard, she said.
“Gasoline dissipates pretty quickly. The bugs in the dirt love gasoline, they tend to eat it up pretty quickly. So once you remove the real icky soil soaked with gasoline you’re going to see the ground water clear up pretty quickly,” she said.
The plan now is to remove the tanks, dig out the soil down nine to 11 feet to the water table, put in clean fill, do long-term groundwater monitoring, and cap the site with a concrete slab for the parking lot, which will meet DEEP standards. The town will have to make regular reports on the cleanup to the DEEP, she explained.
“In this country Connecticut right now has the best brownfields program going. They not only set you up with the funding, they set you up with liability protection, and they also have entities within DECD that will help you market for development.”
The DECD expects the town to make good faith in kind contributions to the cleanup, Vaillancourt said. The contract specifies $458,000 in such contributions, but that includes such expenses as the $213,000 the town has already lost in back taxes, as well as the cost of demolishing the garage, legal costs, anything done to market the site, and more.
“What happens if we don’t have a developer by the end of the grant?” asked council member Tom Zagurski.
“I’m hoping we starting marketing the property right off the bat,” she said.
Merchant has said he would like to see a franchise restaurant there and he also hopes 150 Main St. on the other side of the Pequabuck River, where the town demolished an abandoned apartment building last year, can be added to the Mayfair site.
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.