NORTH ATTLEBORO — A $14 million, year-long project to clean up a former gasworks site in Attleboro Falls is due to wrap up in the next few weeks.
Derek Tomka, senior director for Liberty Utilities, told the town council last week that the utility has been working on plans for the site off Commonwealth Avenue and Mount Hope Street for years. Work on the nine-acre site began in September of 2020.
“We had to pause eight or nine months” due to COVID-19 restrictions, Tomka told the board, but the work is “two or three weeks of wrapping up,” although the project has encountered some supply chain issues.
Liberty and its engineering firm, AECOM, spent months studying the site, including sampling the soil and water.
In the cleanup process, Tomka said, workers diverted the Ten Mile River as well as a nearby brook and then returned them to their original banks. They also treated 58,000 tons of soil and 82 million gallons of water and moved and replanted 900 trees and shrubs to stabilize the site. The company put a priority on safety and there were no injuries during the project, he said.
Liberty bought several homes bordering the site and plans to return them to the market once the cleanup project is finished.
The company will continue to monitor water quality on the site.
It will also monitor the health of the plantings over the next three years.
There will be no direct cost to local residents for the cleanup work, Tomka told councilors. The company will recover the costs through rates across its system.
Liberty, an affiliate of Canadian energy conglomerate Algonquin Power & Utilities, acquired the local utility system from New England Gas eight years ago. That firm was just the latest in a string of companies going back to before the Civil War.
The round brick “gas house” on Elm Street dates to the 1880s and now serves as an office building. It is one of the few remaining visible remnants of the gasworks.
Coal gas, also known as town gas or manufactured gas, illuminated streets, factories and eventually homes in the decades before piped-in natural gas became widely available after World War I. The North Attleboro plant, which heated coal in large vessels to produce the gas, operated until 1928 when it became a gas distribution facility.