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Home to contaminated parcels, proposed stadium site may hold environmental pitfalls

By Beth Daley, Globe Staff, 7/27/2000

t's been one of the biggest worries of the Boston Red Sox in the negotiations surrounding the construction of a new Fenway Park: What's under the ground at the proposed site?

Once expansive mud flats, the Fenway was reclaimed at the turn of the century, filled in with dirt that likely contained coal, tar, ash, and even arsenic, specialists say. Since then, the area has been host to auto stations, repair shops, and tire companies - all with the potential to seep oil, gas, and other contaminants into the soil.

Few tests have been conducted on the 25 parcels needed to build the 44,130-seat stadium. The $28 million price tag mentioned by city and state officials to clean up the site and remove the soil is a rough estimate. And while environmental specialists say there don't appear to be any glaring problems, they acknowledge building on any urban site is a risk.

Yesterday, the state Department of Environmental Protection said three of the 25 parcels on the site of the new ballpark are on the state's contaminated list. One parcel has defaulted on cleanup and two others are just now being entered on the list. Details on the contamination were unavailable late yesterday, but state officials said the infractions could vary greatly, from a small, abandoned oil drum to a major leak.

However, Red Sox stadium consultant Robert Walsh said yesterday preliminary tests showed nothing more serious on the parcels than ''classic urban dirt.''

On the proposed site, workers will dig 20 feet down and essentially build a huge, impermeable box that the field will sit in. Millions of cubic feet of soil will be hauled away.

''Regardless of its condition, the soil will be hauled away so the level of contamination'' is not a huge issue, Walsh said. As of now, the Red Sox have agreed to pay for all cost overruns associated with land preparation.

Soil contaminants worry Fenway opponents, as do traffic issues. But yesterday they were as concerned with placing ''a huge bathtub'' 20 feet down in the middle of the Fens. The area has a history of flooding during heavy storms.

''The water is not going to flow within the stadium, so where is that water going to go?'' asked Dan Wilson, a member of Citizens Against Stadium Subsidies, which opposes construction of a new ballpark. ''These are serious questions. Where are the tests?''

The Fenway neighborhood was virtually empty through the 1920s, according to Boston area historians yesterday. By 1938, there were two- and three-story office buildings, according to an insurance map from the Bostonian Society. In the 1960s and '70s, tire companies and auto shops moved in. Soon, the area became known as a tiny auto hub, filled with sales offices, repairs shops, and gas stations.

And there have been problems along the way. Of the 25 parcels on the stadium site, seven have had contamination issues in the past, although four have been cleaned up. One property on the list, 96-98 Brookline Ave., is in default, which means it has missed its deadline for cleanup of the site. Attempts to reach its owner were unsuccessful. The two other sites, 1271 and 1265 Boylston St., were just being entered on the list and details about them were unavailable.

But Tom Ahern, deputy director for industrial development for the Boston Redevelopment Authority, said residents shouldn't be scared off by the term ''contaminated.''

''In any of these downtown areas you are going to find this kind of urban fill,'' Ahern said. ''Just because you find some contaminants doesn't necessarily mean we have a drastic public health hazard on our hands. This fill is being brought to lined landfills. And we build on these sites all the time.''

This story ran on page E01 of the Boston Globe on 7/27/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

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