Workers excavate a ditch and install box culverts along Seventh Avenue during an environmental remediation project. Work could conclude by December. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
November 23, 2016 10:04:59 PM
Work on the Seventh Avenue ditch environmental remediation project is moving at a quicker pace than expected.
The $3.3 million project is addressing 930 feet of the ditch from a box culvert near Maranatha Faith Center to a separate culvert where Seventh Avenue North connects to Propst Park because of environmental contamination.
Lauri Gorton, director of environmental programs/senior strategist and project manager for Columbus with the Greenfield Environmental Multistate Trust, said the project has progressed well since work began earlier in the fall.
"The first thing we did was go in and excavate the bottom of the ditch and remove creosote," Gorton said. "I believe all of the cleanup work at the ditch is very close to done."
Once the excavation is complete, crews place a new rock lining along the ditch's bottom and install box culverts. Contaminated sediment is disposed of at the Golden Triangle Regional Landfill.
As of Wednesday morning, workers had installed 504 feet of box culvert, working toward Maranatha Faith Center from the Propst Park culvert, according to J5 Broaddus Senior Project Manager Robyn Eastman.
Eastman said the dry weather has been favorable to the quick pace of work.
"If we would've had rain to contend with, this project would be going at a slower pace," he said. "We thought we would be able to do 25 feet per day in our initial plan. We've gotten 125 feet done on some days."
Gorton said if the dry conditions hold, the project will likely finish in December.
"In a ditch like that that's designed to carry rainwater, if you've got flowing water and wet soil, it takes a lot more effort to safely and cleanly remove it," Gorton said. "We want it totally contained. It's one thing to do that when it's dry, so you can imagine how hard it is when that material is all wet and muddy and sloppy."
Gorton said more work will likely follow on additional portions of the ditch.
"The investigation work we've done so far has identified a few areas in the ditch system between Maranatha and the site where we've found soil contamination or creosote in the ditch," Gorton said. "We'll be going back to address those locations, and we'll be working with the city to put together a plan."
The ditch flows from the former Kerr-McGee on 14th Avenue North. Kerr-McGee and its successor, Tronox, operated a chemical processing facility at the site from 1928 to 2003.
The facility produced railroad cross ties. The site has been sealed off since its closing after it was discovered as the source of environmental contamination, primarily from creosote.
Creosote is a chemical used to preserve wood. According to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, it can cause skin and eye irritation, stomach pains, liver or kidney problems and possibly cancer.
The Greenfield Environmental Multistate Trust manages more than 400 former Kerr-McGee sites in 24 states. It uses $5.5 billion in settlement money from a federal lawsuit against the company to address environmental concerns at former sites.
Columbus received $68 million for environmental action in and around the site of its former Kerr-McGee plant.
The culverts are being covered with dirt as the project moves forward, which eliminates the open ditch and leaves more solid ground for people who live near the ditch.
Kim Dooley, a resident who has lived next to the ditch for seven years, said she thinks the project is long overdue.
She said she's heard from people who have lived in the area longer that the ditch used to flood and damage homes. She also said it seemed to grow wider over time, which caused concern among residents.
"It wasn't the most sanitary place," she said. "There were lots of snakes and creatures. Kids would come by to play, and we'd be afraid they would fall in. It posed dangers to the neighborhood.
"I'm very happy to see this being done," she added.
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