By KYLE HENCE/ecoRI News staff
NEWPORT — On Monday morning, Jan. 23, a machine resembling a small well-drilling rig was extracting soil at Queen Anne Square for the second consecutive week, following concerns of contamination raised by the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) in a letter to the city in November. The soil sampling, being conducted by Sage Environmental of Pawtucket, represents the first on-site preparations for the planned re-fashioning of the park.
Last month, in a controversial decision, the City Council approved a redevelopment of the park put forward by the Newport Restoration Foundation at the behest of a small group of wealthy local benefactors. By a vote of 5-1, the City Council entered into in a contract with the foundation to complete the $3.4 million project before the arrival of the America’s Cup World Series in late June. The foundation has contracted Sage Environmental to assess environmental concerns.
The new vision for the park was developed by world-renowned designer Maya Lin, who two years ago described the current park as “lonely” and “empty.” The Lin design was commissioned by the Newport Restoration Foundation to re-invigorate the small downtown park, which proponents have noted lacks park benches and hosts a homeless vagrancy nuisance.
The soil sampling and planned testing was prompted by a letter sent by the DEM after concerns over possible contamination were raised anonymously in November by two witnesses who recalled seeing rusted barrels behind Egan's Laundry & Dry Cleaners on Frank Street four decades years ago.
Late last year, concerning possible contamination buried at the park, DEM senior engineer Joe Martella said, “There is a suspicion but we don’t know if there is a problem.”
“There is no evidence yet of a dry cleaners at the site,” Rick Mandile, of Sage Environmental, said Monday. Citing Sanborn Maps, Mandile said Eagon Cleaners was a laundry and not a dry cleaners. The expressed DEM concern was for chlorinated solvents, an environmental contaminant used routinely by dry cleaners, he said.
Sage environmental scientist Jeff D’Arrigo, who was on site Monday, said the goal is to “assess potential environmental concerns.” He clarified that samples would be taken across the whole park, and a grid of spray-painted florescent marks on the snow spanned the upper portion of the park.
The first four borings were completed Jan. 16, according to D’Arrigo. By noon Jan. 23, the geo-probe team from Martin Drilling Contractors being overseen by D’Arrigo had extracted a dozen 5-foot-long tubular samples, which were carefully labeled in preparation for delivery to a state-certified laboratory.
Based on DEM concerns, tests for the presence of tetrachloroethene — also known as perchloroethylene — will be conducted. Once submitted for testing, turnaround time for results is typically two to three weeks.