Developers discuss land remediation before potential large-scale living complex on the waterfront.

For much of the 20th century, the Beach Street property was used for refurbishing purposes, including paint stripping, repainting and the remodeling of older ships, in addition to shipbuilding purposes, the report says.

2001 Beach Street as it currently looks. Photo by Tom Beck

Stakeholders in the potential development of 2001 Beach St. announced plans to voluntarily remediate the area of excessive arsenic and lead prior to building a residential building onsite at a community meeting last Monday night at Oxford Mills. The remediation will be completed under Pennsylvania’s Act 2 law, which incentivizes voluntary remediation and development of contaminated properties via financial assistance from the state. The location had been a shipyard prior to 1964, according to a report by environmental consultant, Penn Environmental & Remediation. The property was used for refurbishing purposes, including paint stripping, repainting and the remodeling of older ships in addition to shipbuilding purposes, the report says.

An arial view of the property. Courtesy Google Maps.

According to Jeff Walsh, vice president of Penn E&R, the impacted soil will be excavated from the site and sent to a permitted facility to receive those soils. After that, the land will be capped with 2 feet of clean soil. Lastly, “The cleanup plan calls for vapor barriers in any buildings [constructed on the site] that add an additional protective measure towards indoor air,” Walsh said at the meeting.

Developer Greg Hill, who is in the process of buying the site, said the residential buildings will not be constructed with basements. However, he said the primary reason for that is for the area’s high water table, not because of potentially harmful chemicals in the soil. Hill downplayed the possibility of the soil causing any potential harm to future residents.

“It’s not like we’re dealing with the remnants of a lead plant or something,” he said while also mentioning that you can find some levels of lead and arsenic in the soil virtually anywhere you test in the city. “We’re not starting with a particularly problematic site. It’s fairly low levels.”

According to Penn E&R’s report, the site has not been utilized since the 1970s, with the exception of minor deposits of debris and filling. The site is currently vacant.

Jana Curtis, member of a River Wards organization called Get The Led Out, which is dedicated to remediating the area’s lead problem, said she appreciated the developers’ “commitment to open communication at the meeting,” she said in an email. “That’s more than representatives from some past projects have been willing to do.”

However, Curtis is not convinced Hill and his development team are going far enough.

“The state standards for lead in residential soil are inadequate,” she said, “[T]hey certainly don’t reflect what we know about this dangerous neurotoxin; even at the lowest levels, lead steals the potential of our children. Why would anyone only do the minimum when they could fully protect the people from whom they are ultimately making a profit? There is an opportunity here to give our river and our future neighbors a clean start by putting more than just 24 inches between residents and toxic dirt. We’re hopeful the developers continue the dialogue to make this a model of remediation and redevelopment.”

Hill added that he expects to present his plans for the development to the Fishtown community soon, and that he’s currently waiting to be assigned a neighborhood group to present to. He expects the presentation to happen at some point in the next month.

However, documents for the potential development reveal that Hill’s current plans for the site include two 45-unit, multi-family buildings; a 250-unit, multi-family building; 291 townhomes of various sizes; 54 stacked condominiums; and a triangular 1-acre park in the middle. But an opportunity for residents to get more specific details and ask questions will happen at a soon-to-be decided community meeting. Because the lot is in Olde Richmond Civic Association’s territory, the meeting will likely occur there.