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ACTON, MA-W.R. Grace is exploring the possibility of redeveloping portions of its 259-acre former Superfund site here and in Concord. This move is stirring up local activists who contend that the site is not fully cleaned up.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Environmental protection treat this property as a Superfund site–a designation it received in 1979–but Congress exempted the site from Superfund regulations in 1980. In 1978, chemicals from Grace’s battery-separator plant had seeped into two town wells, which were ultimately shut down.

“They are not legally required to clean up the site,” Doug Halley, health director for the town of Acton, tells GlobeSt.com. “But they have been following Superfund regulations.”

While a local activist group, Acton Citizens for Environmental Safety, has raised concerns about contamination at the site, Halley insists that there is no need for concern. “I wouldn’t agree with their assessment,” he says. “We feel confident that W.R. Grace has cleaned it up.”

Halley does acknowledge that problems do remain with the groundwater, which is 30 to 40 feet underground. He points out that that could take up to 20 years before it is completed and that the EPA encourages the “reuse of those properties.”

According to Halley, the Columbia, MD-based chemical company has been in discussions with the town’s economic advisory committee to determine whether the site is a viable property. About two years ago, the town rezoned the 179 acres of the site that are in Acton–the remaining 80 acres are in Concord–for a technology park. This was done in consultation with W.R. Grace. “The official town view is that we are open to them developing the property if they do it properly,” says Halley.

To complicate matters, Grace has recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Because it is strapped for cash, the possibility is also open that it could sell the site to the town. Halley notes that the value of the property could be as high as $13 million. “We are open to acquiring the property,” he says. “The town believes it is a valuable site, even if we retained it as open space.”

Grace’s financial problems are apparent in the lawsuit it filed against the town of Acton over an estimated initial sewer betterment bill of $2.2 million for its property. The case is pending.

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