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Council tables latest Sportsman's Club decision

Date: 2/14/2012

Feb 15, 2012

By Debbie Gardner

AGAWAM — The fate of the former Agawam Sportsman's Club property at 358 Corey St., remained in limbo last week after the City Council tabled a crucial vote at its Feb. 6 meeting.

By a vote of six for, three against, the council voted to halt deliberation on a resolution that would have restricted the growing of vegetables or fruit, or excavation, on a strip of town owned land between the former Sportsman's Club and School Street Park. The restriction is considered necessary because recent re-testing of the property by environmental engineers hired by site developer Russo Construction Co. uncovered potential hazard contamination to a depth of 36 inches in that area.

Russo Construction is proposing to re-purpose the remaining Sportsman's Club property as a condominium development.

Development of the proposed condominium project on the site would add approximately $200,000 to the town's tax rolls and help pay off existing tax debt.

"The resolution put a restriction on a small portion of the property that is owned by the town where we [would agree to] not grow vegetables," Councilor Robert Magovern, who sponsored the resolution, said. "It's wetland anyway."

Magovern added that he was puzzled by the move to table the resolution, and questioned if some of the councilors were confused by historical data on the site and prior cleanups that was presented as background for the resolution.

"I really can't understand why they voted to table [the resolution] because there's nothing wrong with the property," he added.

Councilor Robert Rossi said Councilor George Bitzas moved to table the discussion to give new councilors more time to hear from Russo Construction regarding the new contaminant findings and the exact plans for the site.

"The study [developer Thomas] Russo paid for it himself and said there were contaminants [at the site]," Rossi noted.

Background information on the site indicates an initial cleanup of contamination was performed on the property under the direction of the state's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in April 2009. At that time the Department of Health and Human Services considered the site — which had been used as a gun range since the 1940s — as an imminent hazard because of elevated levels of arsenic and lead in the soil. The soil throughout the five-acre property was cleaned to a depth of 18 inches at a cost of $8,000 and subsequently declared safe by the DEP.

Magovern reiterated "all the water tests and soil tests taken [after the initial cleanup] fall well below the levels required by the DEP."

Rossi, who voted against tabling the resolution, said he still was not certain allowing development on the site of the former gun club was the best course of action.

"Everyone agrees there are contaminants there, so why are they so interested in putting residents there? Why put families there?" Rossi questioned. "If one person gets sick, that's too high a price to pay."

Rossi said he agreed with the recommendation of one of the excavating engineers that the area should be a gravel barrier constructed between the Sportsman's Club property and the park, the building on the property torn down, loam be trucked in to cover the acreage and it should be left as open space.

"That would be the safest for everyone," he added.

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