Friday, October 16, 2009

Washington College Acquires New Waterfront Site Along Chester River

CHESTERTOWN, Md., Oct. 15, 2009 – Washington College announced today that it has acquired ownership of a 5.4-acre waterfront site along the Chester River.

Situated adjacent to the College’s boathouse, the newly acquired parcel will allow the College to expand its waterfront presence with improved and expanded athletic and recreational facilities, a public riverwalk, a waterfront academic center—including a new headquarters for the Center for Environment & Society—even a residential facility for some lucky students.

The new plans mark a dramatic redirection for the site, which for years had been home to an oil depot and agri-chemical supply facility, consequently suffering the ravages of pollution.           

“An ailing site is about to become clean and beautiful,” said Bryan Matthews, Washington College Associate Vice President for Administrative Services and one of the key College planners involved in the effort to acquire the property.

“Rather than condominiums, townhouses and apartments, college facilities and open space will prevail. Chestertown will have a beautiful waterfront gateway. Like most things, this didn’t happen by accident and it didn’t happen overnight.”

The acquisition comes as the culmination of a lengthy and detailed process of negotiation and site-testing. Due to its contiguous location, the property had long been coveted by the College, which is operating under a strategic plan that calls for taking fuller advantage of its proximity to the Chester River and the Chesapeake Bay.

In June 2008 the executive committee of the College’s Board of Visitors and Governors approved an agreement to enter into a partnership with Leroy Kirby Jr. of Chestertown to acquire 75 acres of land – the 5.4-acre waterfront parcel plus the 70-acre parcel known as Stepne Manor located just inland from the river.

The College’s pre-acquisition strategies included the commissioning of an environmental site study of the acreage, following prescribed governmental testing standards, and with particular focus on the waterfront parcel that, from the late 19th century through the late 1980s, had been a fertilizer and bulk agri-chemical storage and distribution facility, as well as a petroleum fuel depot.

Earth Data Incorporated conducted a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment in spring 2008 and followed with an update in fall 2009. As expected, the study indicated surface and subsurface contamination.

Under the auspices of the Maryland Department of the Environment’s Voluntary Cleanup Program (MDE-VCP), a comprehensive Phase II investigation more specifically defined the nature and extent of the contamination. The Phase II test, performed in spring 2009, identified the contaminants – toxaphene, arsenic, chromium and PAHs – and their location – concentrated in the 12 inches of soil closest to the surface. Additionally, the groundwater contained a contaminant, MTBE, above acceptable MDE standards. The series of tests also identified an estimated 7,500 cubic yards of petroleum-contaminated soils from a former fuel-storage site.

According to MDE recommendations, the agrichemical-corrupted soil will be blanketed with a fabric layer, then covered with two feet of clean soil. The petroleum-contaminated soil will be loaded onto trucks licensed to haul regulated waste material in Maryland to an MDE-approved disposal facility. Clean fill material from off-site will be delivered, placed and compacted in the excavation. As a follow-up component, groundwater will be monitored to ensure it meets MDE guidelines. Estimates project the cost for the entire clean-up at approximately $1.5 million.

In cleaning up the environmental mistakes of previous decades, the College will be taking the important first steps in reviving an optimally situated stretch of Chestertown riverfront. “In the coming years, the citizens of Chestertown will see a sick piece of land along the river come to life,” Matthews said.

The College hopes to create a new facility for its nationally ranked sailing and rowing teams, as well as enhanced recreational facilities.

John Seidel, Director of the College’s Center for Environment & Society, also foresees academic opportunities.

“The new waterfront complex could include labs for the sciences, a conference center, residential space for students and visiting lecturers and policy makers, as well as a ‘green technology’ incubator where students could intern,” Seidel said.

As envisioned by College planners, the project will include a community riverwalk, connecting the center of Chestertown to the waterfront’s wetlands and marshlands and eventually linking to a proposed “rail-to-trails” project.

“Our setting in Chestertown, amid the beauty of the Chester River and the Chesapeake, is a significant institutional advantage,” said Washington College President Baird Tipson. “We look forward to collaborating with the Town of Chestertown and Kent County in making the most of this new waterfront opportunity.”

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