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City readies for clean-up at former Ogilvie Foods plant site

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Gary C. Beasley has not given up on redeveloping the former Ogilvie Foods plant site off North Pleasant Street for housing.

Almost two years ago, Mr. Beasley, executive director of Neighbors of Watertown Inc., put on hold a project to create a housing subdivision there while the organization waited for the city to make the site shovel-ready.

Now the city is getting ready to use a $200,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant to clean up the site of soil contamination and other debris from the old food plant. A Pittsford engineering firm, Lu Engineers, is overseeing the cleanup project for the city.

If all goes well, the cleanup could begin in December, but most likely it will be done next spring, city Planner Andrew T. Nichols said. The city has set aside $400,000 in its capital projects budget to remove debris from the plant’s foundation buried there.

In 2011, Neighbors had worked on obtaining state funding for the subdivision with about 18 houses, but more construction debris was found at the five-acre site, making the construction too costly. The organization had been eyeing some state funding to help pay for the project.

“We were waiting for the city to make it site-ready,” Mr. Beasley said, adding that Neighbors will “now revisit” the project and look for funding sources. “It’s still a good idea. It’s still a good project.”

The project could include a subdivision with a road or in-fill housing, he said, depending on what type of funding might be available. He plans to talk to the city Planning Department about it soon, now that the city is pursuing the cleanup, Mr. Beasley said.

It would be up to the Watertown City Council to decide whether to pursue housing on that site, once it’s cleaned up, said Kenneth A. Mix, the city’s planning and community development coordinator. Local officials will start looking at potential development after the site is cleaned up, he said, noting that architectural drawings still exist from the subdivision project.

Until then, the state Department of Environmental Conservation has required the city to conduct more testing to determine how much contaminated soil is on the site and how to remove it, Mr. Nichols said. A 13,000-gallon underground petroleum tank remains on the east side of the site at 148 N. Pleasant St., but the location of a possible second one has not been determined, he said.

DEC has instructed that nine surface tests must be completed and five wells be dug in October to analyze groundwater. Lab tests most likely will be finished the next month, he said.

DEC will oversee the actual cleanup, while Lu is handling its strategy.Lu Engineers is being paid $58,095, but that amount might increase, depending on the testing.

As proposed two years ago, the houses would have been on individual lots and would be owner-occupied. The subdivision would be built between North Pleasant Street and California Avenue and also include a small park.

For years, residents of the neighborhood have called the site an eyesore. They generally have supported turning it into a residential neighborhood.

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