Cleanup Continues at Contaminated Downtown Site
July 14, 2000
Georgia Power and Atlanta Gas Light are set to begin the second phase of a state Public Service Commission-mandated cleanup of a former gas plant site off Foundry Street in the eastern edge of downtown Athens. The long-defunct coal gasification plant, owned at different times by both utilities, manufactured gas from the mid-1800s through the 1940s. Gas production created significant quantities of coal tar, a known carcinogen that can be found in shampoos as well as in asphalt. More than 2,000 tons of coal tar leaked into the ground surrounding the plant over the years, according to figures from Atlanta Gas Light. Cleaning up the site involves the excavation of some of the soil between Foundry Street and Willow Street north of East Broad Street. Excavated areas are then refilled with uncontaminated off-site soil and vegetation is planted to prevent erosion. Monitoring wells will be dug so that the site can be examined over the next few years to determine whether all significant contaminants have been removed from the soil, according to Brett Mitchell, an environmental engineer with Georgia Power serving as field project manager for the site reclamation. In the first phase of the cleanup, which covered the excavation of the bulk of the coal tar, 15,000 tons of soil were excavated from an area immediately adjacent to the plant site. The contaminated soil was trucked to a metro Atlanta landfill. The second phase, tentatively set to begin July 24, will involve the excavation of an estimated 30,000 to 33,000 tons of soil, according to Mitchell.
"It's like cleaning up a boiling pot," Georgia Power Spokesman John Sell explained Thursday. "We've taken the pot off the stove (with the first phase of the excavation), and now we're just cleaning up what splattered." The site will be cleaned to non-residential standards, according to Mitchell. That is particularly important because the Foundry Street site has been identified as a site for a local sales-tax funded multimodal transportation center, where local bus, private vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian traffic will be integrated, possibly with commuter rail. Athens-Clarke officials have said they will not proceed with acquisition of the multi-modal site until it is cleaned up. According to Mitchell, the second phase of the site reclamation will likely be completed by October or November. But in a plan filed with the state Environmental Protection Division, the company has listed December as a completion date, in case unforeseen problems arise, Mitchell said. Still to be decided is where the contaminated soil from the second phase of the project will be taken for disposal. Georgia Power is in negotiations with representatives of a small number of landfills where the soil could be taken. Among the sites under consideration is the Athens-Clarke County landfill off Lexington Road, according to Mitchell. When excavation begins, an average of 20 to 30 dump trucks will enter and leave the site daily. The routes the trucks will take into and out of the site will depend on the site chosen for dumping. According to Sell, trucks will be scheduled so that they are not on the road when school buses are running to ensure the safety of local children. A copy of the site reclamation plan is available for review in the Heritage Room of the Athens-Clarke County Library, 2025 Baxter St. Planning for a third phase of clean-up, along the North Oconee River at Willow Street, is under way. Georgia Power is working with the Athens-Clarke County government -- which is responsible for cleaning up waste products from an old municipal incinerator in the same area -- to develop a reclamation plan, Mitchell said Thursday.