LAWRENCE ֱ The next phase in the cleanup and redevelopment of the city's 4.75-acre Merrimac Paper property is to map the extent of soil contamination at the Brownsfield site.

Also ahead is the evaluation of underground pipes that once carried water from the nearby South Canal to the paper mill and spun its turbines to generate power at the plant.

The canal was recently drained and the low water level will allow both soil mapping and underground infrastructure evaluation.

The cleanup of the Merrimac site - valued by the city and developers for its residential and commercial development potential - is being funded by federal and state grants and programs.

On the Merrimack River's south side, the site's derelict mill buildings, gutted by fires, were recently demolished and most of the debris removed, said Brad Buschur, project director for Groundwork Lawrence.

The Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, an economic development organization, along with Groundwork Lawrence, a health and environmental justice group, are assisting the city with the site cleanup and redevelopment plans.

The plans include providing land to link the Lawrence Rail Trail with the Merrimack River Trail, a Groundwork Lawrence project.

The Merrimac site is zoned for commercial, residential and light industrial uses.

On Nov. 13, Patriot Hydro, owner of the nearby South Canal, which, historically, channeled water to mills to help power machinery, lowered the waterway's level for general wall repairs.

The repairs have been completed, Patriot Hydro spokesperson Steven Arabia said.

Patriot, by way of its subsidiary, the Essex Company, operates a 16 MW hydro-electric plant upstream at the Great Dam and does not rely on the canal for power production.

It is, however, responsible for canal maintenance under its federal license to operate.

Arabia says Patriot will keep the canal water level low to accommodate the city, Groundwork Lawrence and others while they complete mapping of contamination and evaluation of the underground pipes and other canal infrastructure.

"Dropping the canal level will help lower groundwater levels to help advance these activities," Buschur said.

The paper mill site is known to be contaminated by oil, heavy metals and other pollutants.

Previously, six years ago, the federal Environmental Protection Agency spent $1.3 million to remove asbestos from the site.

A spate of fires including a major blaze in 2014 ravaged the buildings at the mill, which went bankrupt in 2005.

The city took the property's 7 and 9 South Canal St. lots between 2017-19 after a long legal tug-of-war over tax nonpayment, reportedly more than $6 million.

Grants awarded to the city, $1.5 million in MassDevelopment Site Readiness and $500,000 in EPA Brownfields Program money, funded demolition and will help with the continuing cleanup, Buschur said.

MassWorks funding of up to $600,000 is available for the trail linkage project. 

Merrimac Paper opened in 1866, a year after the Civil War's end. It once employed some 275 people.

Note: A previous version of this e-edition story referred to the Merrimac Paper location as a superfund site. That was incorrect. It is a Brownsfield site.

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