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Portfields Project Helps Economy and Environment of New Bedford Harbor

Release Date: 08/05/04
Contact Information: Contact: Peyton Fleming, EPA Press Office, 617-918-1008

For Immediate Release: Aug. 5, 2004; Release # 04-08-04

NEW BEDFORD – New Bedford Harbor was the main stage this morning as national, state and local officials announced $5 million for navigational dredging as part of the New Bedford Harbor Portfields project for the harbor. Also today, officials of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency formally launched a new facility designed to remove the liquid from PCB-contaminated sediments that will be dredged from the harbor in the coming months as part of a Superfund cleanup. Later in the day, officials and residents were invited to an “Open House” tour of the new Dewatering, Water Treatment and Transfer Facility.

At a joint press conference held this morning, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the EPA highlighted early successes for the New Bedford Harbor Portfields Pilot, including the presentation of a $5 million check by Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey to the City of New Bedford and the Town of Fairhaven for navigational dredging projects aimed at improving access and safety for boats and ships that use the harbor.

“The Portfields Initiative has generated the momentum for us to implement key provisions of the New Bedford Harbor Cleanup plan that will enable navigational dredging of New Bedford Harbor that would otherwise have been impossible,” said New Bedford Mayor Frederick M. Kalisz Jr. “This marks a tremendous step forward in creating economic opportunities for our port users and businesses while also enhancing the environmental quality of our greatest natural resource.”

The press conference also included Ira Leighton, deputy regional administrator of EPA’s New England office, cutting a ribbon to formally open the new PCB dewatering facility at New Bedford Harbor. The dewatering facility is a crucial part of the harbor’s PCB cleanup which is vital to bringing the harbor back to a healthy, financially-strong footing.

“Completion of this facility is an important step in restoring the health and economic vitality of New Bedford Harbor,” Leighton said, speaking at the dewatering facility next to the harbor. “It clears the way for Superfund harbor dredging to begin next month.”

The five-acre, $25 million dewatering facility will receive desanded dredged sediment from EPA’s Sawyer Street desanding building, via 1.3 miles of submerged pipeline. The desanded sediment will go through presses that squeeze out excess water, which will be treated to stringent standards and then discharged back into the harbor. The dewatered sediment will then be sent to an out-of-state licensed landfill or to one of three confined disposal facilities that will be constructed along the New Bedford shoreline.

The dewatering facility was designed with the future in mind. Once the harbor cleanup is finished, the facility’s rail spur, its 350-foot heavy duty pier and the 55,000-square-foot shoreline building will become city property. The site, across from the city’s planned transportation center, will enhance a vital portion of the harbor’s working waterfront and advance the goals of the Portfields Initiative.

The navigational dredging project, which is separate from the Superfund dredging of PCB-contaminated sediments, is part of a national Portsfield Initiative, a new federal interagency effort led by NOAA focused on redeveloping ports. With maritime trade expected to double by 2020, US shipping ports will need to increase capacity and infrastructure. Designated pilot ports are Bellingham, Wash. and Tampa, Fla., in addition to New Bedford. Portfields is focused on revitalizing waterfront areas, improving marine transportation and protecting and restoring coastal environments.
The Massachusetts Governor's Seaport Council, chaired by Lt. Gov. Healey, approved the $5 million for the New Bedford/Fairhaven Navigational Dredge Project, recognizing the urgent need to make the harbor deep enough in certain areas to sustain existing businesses and capitalize on future opportunities.

“The Council is very pleased to participate in the Portfields Initiative and partner with federal, state, local and industry stakeholders to increase the economic potential of the Port of New Bedford and will continue its aggressive strategy, under the Lt. Governor’s leadership, to preserve, restore and improve the Commonwealth’s seaports to maximize the competitive advantage they give to our economy,” said Richard Armstrong, executive secretary of the Seaport Council and director of port development for the Commonwealth.

The Portfields effort will get a boost from the state enhancement provision of the Superfund harbor cleanup plan. This approach creates a streamlined permitting process for the first phase of navigational dredging and disposal in the harbor. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, in coordination with other federal and state agencies, will provide regulatory oversight for the Portfield dredging and disposal.

Project stakeholders from the Town of Fairhaven will also provide a $200,000 match for engineering work for the navigational dredge project.

The New Bedford Harbor Superfund site includes all of New Bedford Harbor and parts of the Acushnet River and Buzzards Bay. The harbor was contaminated with PCBs, the result of past waste disposal practices at two electrical component manufacturing plants – one on the Acushnet River, the second on the outer harbor. PCB wastes were discharged directly into the harbor, as well as indirectly through the city’s sewer system. EPA added the harbor to its National Priorities List (known as the Superfund list) in 1983, making the site eligible for federal Superfund cleanup money.

EPA has spent more than $189 million in planning, engineering and construction costs for the harbor cleanup. Fifteen acres of the most highly contaminated areas have been cleaned up and the remaining 240 acres of contaminated sediment, including surrounding wetlands and residential properties, will be processed at the new 5-acre dewatering, water treatment, and transfer facility. An estimated 880,000 cubic yards of sediments are slated to be removed, roughly equivalent to 175 football fields each filled three feet deep.

Fish, lobster and other seafood from New Bedford Harbor and the Acushnet River contain high levels of PCBs, which can cause illness if eaten regularly. In 1979, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health issued restrictions on fishing and lobstering based on health risks from eating fish and lobster from the 18,000-acre New Bedford Harbor and Acushnet River estuary.

Related Information:
New Bedford Harbor
Web site

Cleanup Process
Cleanup in New England