Superfund site wrapped up, Keyes Drive open

Photo by KATHY CLEVELAND A car pulls into the driveway of Keyes Park, which had been closed for about 18 months during the federal cleanup of the adjacent Fletcher Paint Superfund site.

MILFORD – On the Friday before the Fourth of July, with little fanfare, the town opened Keyes Drive to traffic.

Closed since the winter of 2016, the opening of the Elm Street driveway to the town’s largest recreation facility signaled that the cleanup of the adjacent Fletcher Paint Superfund site was complete.

The work of digging out and hauling away contaminated soil lasted about 18 months, but before that there were years of soil sampling, public hearings, proposals for remedies, target dates that came and went and the creation of reams of documents.

“It’s a relief to put it in the ‘Done’ column,” selectmen’s Chairman Mark Fougere remarked at the June 26 board meeting calling access to the park “is a great thing.”

The work removing tens of thousands of tons of toxic soil at the Elm and Mill streets portions of the Superfund site meant the town had to close the only access to Keyes Park, the town’s largest recreation facility. To provide a secondary access as well as a future recreation area, Milford purchased the adjacent property to the west, at 127 Elm St., with donated funds.

In a sense, the cleanup actually got underway 33 years ago, in 1984, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identified hazardous substances in water samples from the Keyes Municipal Well.

The well was removed from service, and a few years later drums of contaminants were removed from the Fletcher Paint Elm Street facility.

Fletcher’s business manufactured and sold paints and stains from 1949 until 1991. Many years of the storage and release of scrap pyranol – a mixture of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and solvents – contaminated the soil, groundwater, and nearby sediments in the Souhegan River, according to the EPA.

PCBs are considered a persistent organic pollutant and their production was banned by the U.S. Congress in 1979. The International Agency for Research on Cancer calls them a definite carcinogen in humans.

The EPA learned later that the General Electric Company, which paid for most of the multi-million cleanup, had paid Fred Fletcher to dispose of hazardous materials. When the Fletcher Paint building was torn down in 2000, former Cabinet publisher Bill Rotch wrote a column calling him a “fiesty, congenial, opinionated businessman and conservative politician.”

The site also included a storage area 700 feet south on Mill Street, and in the early 1990s the shed and its contents were disposed of and contaminated surface soils were removed from three residential properties. Asphalt was placed over Mill Street to direct future runoff away from these properties.

Along with excavation and off-site disposal, at the Heritage Landfill in Indiana, of PCB-contaminated soils, the cleanup plan included construction of a cover, and finally, the restoration of the Elm Street property for public recreation and parking.

A small parking lot has been built just inside the entrance to Keyes Drive and the driveway and nearby sidewalks have been paved, grass is starting to grow on the sealed cap, and a Vietnam War memorial is being considered for the site.

The final part of the Superfund project was removal of about 2,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediments in the Souhegan River, adjacent to the Elm Street portion of the site, that were excavated and transported off-site last year.

Last year EPA promised that the river would have fish that is safe to eat and water safe to swim in.

The river at the site is now safe to swim in, Jim Brown, the EPA’s remedial project manager, said Monday, but the EPA will be monitoring fish to make sure they are safe to eat.

The Keyes well will eventually be back in use as a drinking water source, but it will take decades for groundwater contamination from the Elm Street and Mill Street sites to dissipate, Brown said.

Keyes Drive was scheduled to remain open for the July 4 celebrations at Keyes Field, and there would be some temporary closures after that, Town Administrator Mark Bender said last week.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at or 673-3100.