WOBURN - State and federal authorities recently authorized the release of $3.9 million Industri-Plex superfund site settlement money for the construction of a new Scalley Dam fish bypass into Horn Pond and wetlands restoration near the Shaker Glen Conservation area.
Yesterday, environmental officials from the Mass. Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) revealed the future outdoor resource and parkland improvements were listed as the top local priorities in a environmental assessment and restoration plan that analyzed ways to mitigate some of the damage caused by the release of toxic chemicals and pollutants on a 200-plus acre swatch of land between the Woburn Mall in East Woburn and Presidential Way in North Woburn.
All of the final projects identified in the study were initially suggested by municipal leaders and local citizens during a series of public hearings and gatherings held between the summer of 2018 and this March.
Though the improvements technically focus on areas in by Woburn’s western and southern boundaries, analysts working on behalf of the superfund sites’ trustees point out that the work offsets environmental problems along downstream tributaries and habitats that were indirectly harmed by contaminates released into the Aberjona River from the Industri-Plex zone.
“For many decades, serious environmental contamination occurred in the Aberjona River watershed and surrounding wetlands and river systems,” MassDEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg remarked in a prepared statement on Tuesday. “When the natural resources of an ecosystem are damaged, the Commonwealth’s top priority is to ensure that those resources are fully restored, and these projects will help to return the impacted areas to a proper public use.”
Besides the two major Woburn proposals, the mitigation funding will also be utilized to restore riverside habitats by Winchester’s Davidson Park, while another $125,000 will be provided to the Mystic River Watershed Association for educational purposes.
In total, at least $3 million of the $3.8 million in available funding will be allocated towards Woburn initiatives. In the event that any of that money be left over after the projects are completed — or should the cost of those undertakings be offset by other state and federal grants — the Industri-Plex trustees will allocate up to $110,000 to help restore riverbanks and fish habitats along the Horn Pond Brook.
Just this past summer, city officials identified that work as critical to alleviating flooding conditions around Lake Avenue, while the project is also viewed as yet another way to support the return of Atlantic Ocean herring to Horn Pond during spawning season.
Scalley Dam fishway
Expected to cost around $1 million, one of the main Woburn initiatives be funded by the Industri-Plex settlement will also look to bolster the herring run and facilitate the return of other native species like the American eel to Horn Pond.
Presently, migrating fish looking to swim upstream from Horn Pond Brook into Horn Pond utilize a riprap bass channel that runs northeast of the dam spillway.
Indeed, the bypass enabled the return of anadromous Alewife and Blueback herring species in 2018 to Horn Pond for the first time in nearly two generations. However, environmentalists, who estimate around 25,000 herring are making the spawning run to Horn Pond, believe the current fish count is inhibited by the steep terrain of the channel.
“The City of Woburn will construct a new fishway on the site. The fishway will likely be sited west of Scalley Dam, opposite the existing bypass channel,” a project narrative released in September reads. “The design for the site may incorporate a camera and viewing area for the public to view migrating fish, and a bioswale or rain garden at the adjacent parking lot to reduce the discharge of stormwater runoff and associated pollutants into Horn Pond.”
“The City of Woburn estimates that an improved fishway will eventually allow up to 500,000 herring to enter Horn Pond, compared to an estimated 25,000 fish that passed the dam in 2018. Increases in fish migration success are anticipated in the first migration season following fishway construction (contingent on passage success at downstream barriers, including Center Falls Dam, which passed approximately 109,000 fish in 2018),” the study authors furthered.
Shaker Glen Extension restoration
With a budget of up to $2 million, the second big ticket Woburn fix entails the restoration of the Shaker Glen Brook in the West Side by Russell Street, where the channel was apparently diverted in the 1950s in order to construct a bowling alley.
The area in question, a 12-acre parcel of land known as Shaker Glen Extension by Woburn Four Corners, is also situated right nearby the 20-acre Shaker Glen Conservation site.
“The structural remnants of a former bowling alley that was demolished in the 1970s currently degrade the natural wildlife and wetland habitats of the parcel, which abuts the existing 19.6-acre Shaker Glen conservation area. The Shaker Glen Extension includes Shaker Glen Brook, a tributary to Fowle Brook, which has been affected by rerouting and channelization, and suffers from poor water quality and sedimentation issues,” the state and federal study team explained this September.
According to the state and federal Industri-Plex trust custodians, with the City of Woburn reportedly in talks to acquire the site, the project would return the Shaker Glen Brook back to its original banks by removing the last remnants of the bowling alley, which includes the building foundation and some 40,000 square feet of broken parking pavement.
A 20,000 square foot stormwater treatment system, as well as a new berm to divert the rainflow, would also be installed to treat runoff from Russell Street before it enters the brook. Lastly, in an attempt to reduce flooding in and around the Four Corners area, a new 10-foot by six-foot box culvert would be installed to replace an old 60-inch stream culvert in the area.
“Stream restoration and wetland creation are anticipated to expand aquatic habitat, improve water quality, and increase flood resiliency. These benefits will be enhanced following the mitigation of downstream barriers to fish passage, particularly at the Scalley Dam, where the City of Woburn will construct fishway improvements to increase the number of herring entering Horn Pond,” the Industri-Plex Trustee Council concluded in their final assessment of the mitigation plan.
The $3.9 million comes from a $4.25 million settlement reached in 2013 with Bayer Cropsciences Inc. and Pharmacy Corp., the two corporations which eventually came to own the surviving entities deemed responsible for the polluting the 200-plus acre site off Presidential Way.
In total, more than 80 companies which operated in the area over a 130-year period are suspected of being responsible for the massive pollution plume. As significant portion of subsurface contaminated soils have been isolated by an impermeable cap or barrier that stretches around the Anderson Regional Transportation Center site, Presidential Way, and several properties that border Commerce Way.
Federal officials from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) say that between 1853 and 1969, toxic glues and contaminates like arsenic, chromium, and lead were dumped into pits and lagoons scattered all around the sensitive Aberjona River Watershed.