State: Mystic boathouse park site safe for crew team

Stonington — A state health department epidemiologist has informed the town that it is safe for high school crew team members to use the Mystic River Boathouse Park site.

Meg Harvey made the recommendation in a Tuesday email to the Ledge Light Health District, which oversees public health issues for the town.

“Based on my evaluation of all the information provided to me, I conclude that contaminant concentrations at the site are not high enough to pose an exposure concern to athletes who access the property to store crew boats and/or participate in a short-term summer crew training program,” she wrote.

Later she added that after considering the current site conditions, the contaminant concentrations and the frequency and intensity of use by athletes, she concluded that “the level of exposure to contaminants present at the site does not present a public health concern.”

But she recommended the town not open up the 1.5-acre site just north of the Mystic Seaport Museum on Route 27 for use by the general public and beach cleanup events until environmental remediation is complete. First Selectman Rob Simmons said that is because the activities of those groups would not be supervised as those of the crew team are.

The town sought a review of the existing environmental data by Ledge Light to determine if there is any risk to the crew team by continuing to use the site and if the public could use the site before full remediation is complete. Ledge Light then sought technical assistance from the state Department of Health.

The town's review, which included a site visit last week, was prompted by a Nov. 22 column by Day columnist David Collins that raised questions about the safety of letting high school rowers use the site, where there are known contaminants from when it was used by the former Rossie Velvet Mill across the street to dump coal slag and other contaminants.

Dating back to 1995, Simmons said there have been five environmental assessments of the site, with a sixth — funded by a $200,000 state grant — underway.

In her email, Harvey wrote that previous testing on the beach portion of the property shows that concentrations of arsenic, lead and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the surface soil and sediment are “somewhat elevated” above the state’s Residential Direct Contact cleanup standards for soil.

“However, these cleanup standards are based on residential exposure assumptions (young children with high daily soil ingestion because of their intense hand-to-mouth contact, and an exposure frequency of 365 days per year). High school-aged athletes using this site have significantly less frequent and less intense contact with beach soil/sediment than a residential exposure scenario. Additionally, portions of the site (other than the beach area) that athletes could access are either well-grassed or paved; both of which will significantly limit direct contact with soil,” she wrote.

Harvey added that of the five surface soil/sediment samples along the beach portion of the site, only two are in the area where the boats are launched.

“My conclusion of no health concern is based on contaminant concentrations in the two primary testing locations from the boat launching area. Additional testing data from this area could strengthen and confirm this conclusion,” she wrote.

Harvey also added that because glass and other debris in the tidal area could pose a safety hazard, athletes using the site next summer should continue their practice of wearing water shoes when accessing the beach area to launch boats. She added it also would be prudent to wash sediment and soil from their shoes and the boats after the boats are taken out of the water.

Meanwhile, the Mystic River Boathouse Park Implementation Committee is slated to appear before the Board of Police Commissioners at 5 p.m. Thursday at the police station to try and gain approval for its controversial plan to place seven parallel parking spots along Route 27. The park committee needs the police commission to approve the parking spots in order to get the state Department of Transportation to approve the plan.

The spots are contained in the master plan for the park that was approved by the park committee on Monday. That plan will now go to the Planning and Zoning Commission for approval, possibly in February.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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