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Cleanup of former Norwich Hospital property in Preston to resume soon

Preston — Cleanup work at the former Norwich Hospital property is expected to resume the first week of February, with several “quick hits” projects before the final push starts in March, Preston Redevelopment Agency Chairman Sean Nugent said.

The cleanup effort, which must be completed before the town turns over the 393-acre property to Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment for major redevelopment, halted after environmental assessment crews discovered extensive coal ash contamination beneath roadways and parking areas in 2019. The cost exceeded the previous $10 million state grant, so work essentially stopped as that money dried up.

The state legislature and Bond Commission approved a new $7 million state grant in July 2020, and the town still has a $2 million loan to add to the total. More delays ensued, however, as town leaders negotiated with the state Department of Economic and Community Development over how the final cleanup should be conducted.

Nugent told the Board of Selectmen recently that work will begin with “quick hits” projects that include abatement and demolition of the Pathway building and cleanup of a small 7-acre area at the junction of routes 12 and 2A. Because a portion of the Pathway building stands within 100 feet of a wetland, the PRA needed approval from the town Inland Wetlands and Watercourse Commission before beginning that work. Approval was granted unanimously Tuesday.

The larger plan calls for creating a consolidation area in one spot to place and cap contaminated soil. Clean fill from the excavated consolidation area will be used to fill in the roadways and former parking areas where the contaminated ash was removed, Nugent said.

Before the major work can restart in March, an archaeologist will examine the consolidation area and flag boundaries to avoid any sensitive underground potential archaeological resources, Nugent said. Town officials and the town’s environmental contractor, Manafort Bros. Inc., will meet with Mohegan officials on the property to review plans, he said.

MGE has an agreement with the town to create a $200 million to $600 million development with recreational, entertainment, sports and residential projects on the property, which sits across the Thames River from Mohegan Sun casino and near the Mohegan-Pequot Bridge.

Separate from the final environmental cleanup, passersby might see other work progressing on the portion of former hospital property near the commuter parking lot on Route 12. Eversource plans to upgrade utility poles and wiring throughout Preston and the region and has requested to rent the property from the town to use as a staging area for the work.

Nugent told the Board of Selectmen the utility will pay $7,500 per month for the first six months, and $6,000 per month after that, with an eight-month estimated timeframe. The agreement will include a provision to vacate the property if the town’s cleanup work moves faster than expected, he said.

Another issue independent of the cleanup also will need to be addressed. One area was damaged by a “significant” washout caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida on Sept. 1 and 2, Nugent said. Cleanup cost was estimated at $290,000, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency slated to cover 75% of the expense.

If state officials say the town cannot use the cleanup grant to cover the town’s share of the cost, Nugent said the PRA would seek to use the Eversource payments to cover the cost. Any leftover money would be turned over to the town, he said.

The part of the former hospital property that is in Norwich, about 60 acres, is in private hands and no development plans have been proposed there.

c.bessette@theday.com

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