Federal officials joined Mayor Jon Mitchell today to celebrate a milestone in the cleanup of New Bedford Harbor - and to transfer control of a valuable waterfront industrial property to the city.

After 17 years of work, the dredging of PCB-contaminated sediments below the harbor's low tide line was completed in March. "EPA has removed one million cubic yards of PCB-contaminated sediment from the harbor, marking the completion of all Superfund subtidal dredging," said US EPA New England Regional Administrator Dennis Deziel

As a result, a five-acre parcel at 14 Hervey Tichon Ave. used for "dewatering" the sediment is no longer needed. Today, Dezeil literally handed a set of keys to the warehouse facility to Mitchell.

"This is a significant advance for the city and its ongoing economic revitalization," Deziel said.

Mary Serreze/TSM

The site is one of the only heavy-duty, rail-accessible port facilities in all of New England. The marine bulkhead is reinforced for berthing large cargo ships and can support heavy cranes. What's more, it abuts another portside property that the city is working to develop -- the so-called North Terminal. Mitchell said that ultimately, 400 feet of marine bulkhead at the old EPA site will combine with 700 feet of bulkhead planned at the North Terminal.

In the short term, the old EPA site will be used as a staging area for construction of the North Terminal, a project that has received millions in federal grant money. The new 21st-century port facility will be able to support offshore wind deployment, more fishing boats, shipping, and other maritime ventures, Mitchell said.

"The Port of New Bedford is the economic driver of Southeastern Massachusetts," Mitchell said.

The work to remove contaminated sediment was made possible by a historic 2012 settlement between the government and AVX Corp. for $366.25 million. The settlement paved the way for expedited work at the New Bedford Harbor Superfund Site.

A top official with the Army Corps of Engineers said cleaning up New Bedford Harbor was not easy and presented many challenges.

Mary Serreze/TSM

“Contaminated since the 1940s, New Bedford Harbor is one of the largest and most complex cleanups our district has ever undertaken, and this project has been full of challenges since day one," said Col. John A. Atilano II, New England Commander for the ACOE. The sediment was trucked away to a properly licensed landfill, he said.

Atilano said the sheer size of the project combined with the challenges of working with tidal waters called for diligence and innovation. He said with the sub-tidal work completed, a big warehouse on the five-acre parcel that was used for de-watering is no longer needed.

The city-owned property had been leased to the EPA for decades, Mitchell said. He added that if such a five-acre parcel with a 400-foot heavy-lift bulkhead and rail access were to be built today, it would cost anywhere from $30 million to $40 million.

USEPA

Even though the major dredging is complete, fish and seafood caught in the harbor will remain contaminated with PCBs for some time, Mitchell said. Local fishermen should familiarize themselves with applicable fishing restrictions and advisories to ensure harvested seafood is safe to eat.

In 2021, the EPA and Army Corps will continue to remediate shoreline areas in Fairhaven, Acushnet, and New Bedford. EPA will hold a virtual public meeting on January 13th at 6pm to discuss the status of the harbor cleanup including remedial work planned for 2021. More information on that meeting can be found at the following link: https://www.epa.gov/superfund/newbedford

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