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By STEPHEN CHUPASKA
East Lyme - Crews today will begin a major round of environmental tests on the 301 acres surrounding Darrow Pond that the town has agreed to buy from Webster Bank for $4.1 million.
Voters overwhelmingly approved the purchase of the property at a Sept. 1 referendum, but whether the town finally acquires the land is contingent upon the results of a series of environmental tests scheduled to be completed by mid-October.
Webster Bank is paying for the tests and any possible remediation of the property, a portion of which was once home to a JC Penney testing facility.
Brenda Green, vice president of public affairs at Webster Bank, said the bank has a "commitment to turn over a clean property to the town of East Lyme."
"We want to do this the right way," Green said Thursday.
Green said residents in neighborhoods around Darrow should expect to see a large drill and other equipment at the site.
Darci Schofield, project manager with the Trust for Public Land, the national nonprofit that partnered with the town on the purchase, said a closing on the land would take place only if the property is clean.
"We will only close if we are satisfied," Schofield said. "The Darrow land does have an industrial history."
The closing is scheduled for Oct. 31.
Schofield said preliminary test results revealed some contaminated soil on the site of the JC Penney facility, where lawn mowers and chain saws were once put through their paces.
"The soil will be removed and replaced," Schofield said.
The removal will include soil affected by a former JC Penney building which burned in a January 2010 fire, leaving behind piles of debris.
Schofield said crews will be removing the remnants of a hydraulic lift as well as the building's foundation.
Plans call for about 50 acres of the parcel to be used as a site for a water tank. The tank would be erected as part of the town's regional water connection project linking East Lyme to the New London-owned Lake Komonoc.
The remaining 250 acres of the property would be preserved for open space and recreation.