There’s something to be said for cleaning up after others, but in the case of Bob Delhome and his company, Charter Environmental, they are cleaning up the sins of the past caused by so many others – that being some of the state’s worst environmentally polluted sites.
Currently, the 19-year-old environmental remediation company is about one-third of the way done with one of its biggest projects ever – cleaning up the former Monsanto Chemical site on Lower Broadway to clear the way for Wynn Everett casino.
It’s a daunting task, as there are three major “hot spots” on the site and general contamination throughout – as well as multiple clean up strategies being deployed all at once – but Delhome, 47, said this week the project has been exciting and great for his company.
Cruising around the clean up site on Monday morning, Delhome pointed out where the casino tower would be, where the boat dock is to go and just how the waterfront esplanade would be situated on the site.
But what he was most passionate about was the treating of acidic soils, the removal of contaminated dirt, and the purification of the groundwater. For the Panamanian-born man who attended Massachusetts Maritime Academy, cleaning up the environment has become quite a focal point in his career.
“When we first started, the focus was on building the business and becoming financially and economically viable,” he said. “As an established business, contributing to cleaning up the environment and restoring it has been a powerful and passionate focal point for me professionally. It’s incredibly rewarding seeing the remediation of these places like in Everett…There is a whole population in the vicinity of this site and sites like this who cannot travel out of state to get to a coastal area and the coastal areas near them have been inaccessible to them. We’re opening a coastal environment and people here will have immediate access to it and it’s a place they can walk to…It’s the business we’re in, but if you’re not passionate about that, there are other businesses to go into.”
On the Everett site, one major part of the remediation that many don’t think about is treating the water. As important as removing the highly contaminated soils has been, cleaning water is just as important, Delhome said, and it’s something his firm specializes in.
Towards the back of the site near the railroad tracks sits a large rectangular pool of water – the end result of the process.
The water is clear, and it is now perfectly safe for one to swim in if they so choose. However, the water is slowly leaching back into the ground. The water comes from the digging that is done to remove soils, pumped from the “hot spots” to a special set of filters and holding tanks – where, in layman speak, sediments settle out and the water is filtered though what is ultimately like a giant fish-tank filter. From there, it’s pumped out to the pool to seep back into the water table.
“Everyone thinks about the dirty soils and sediment and that’s obviously a primary competency of these projects, but…what we’ve found is that the water cleaning and the water treatment process is a critical element of these projects,” he said. “It’s not a part that necessarily gets the visibility of the greater community though.
“It goes back to our history here in New England,” he continued. “Most of our industrial centers required access to water…A lot of the sites in New England and Boston in particular are infilled areas and contaminated environmentally. You’re not only on the border of water, but also filled land as well. Whether here in Everett or an excavation in the Fenway, you’re almost always in the water table.”
Such clean ups are costly, and Delhome said sites like the Wynn Everett casino wouldn’t have been considered in the past. Now, all the “easy” sites have been cleaned up years ago, and with noted population growth in places like Boston, the harder sites like Wynn are being eyed for development.
“These projects are happening on sites where they may not have happened before,” he said.
A good deal of what’s driving that innovation comes due to better technology and the necessity to use land that previously had been passed over.
“It’s a significantly different industry than it was 10 or 15 years ago,” he said. “Technology and advances in engineering are certainly helping and I think we’ll continue to see that grow at a more rapid rate. I think the next five years will see more advances in this than the last 10 years. We’ll see how these projects develop.”
Delhome and Charter came to the Wynn Everett project at the tail end of their restoration of the Muddy River in the Fenway. Typically, Delhome said, they don’t go after such projects as Wynn. However, he said he was impressed with the organization after attending a breakfast at the behest of a friend at the Hispanic American Institute.
“I decided to just go to the breakfast,” he said. “We usually don’t get into the rat race, but I was so impressed …We usually move more quietly, but I went back to the office and said, ‘We have to go after this one.’”
That they did.
The process was daunting and competitive, with numerous companies vying for the work. Submissions for the bid were the length of a Russian novel. In the end, Charter won the bid. Since that time, Delhome said it’s been great to work on the Wynn project.
“I’ve tried not to sound like a commercial for the Wynn organization, and we’ve been lucky to work for great owners and great contractors that set the standard for getting things done, but during this process you will get a call from the engineer to talk about a level of detail that is incredible,” he said. “[The engineer] will call up to talk about tarps on the site. That doesn’t happen and we’ve had those calls here…It’s been a very efficient way of doing things. A lot of times you have layers to get through on a project, and on this the layers have collapsed. That’s been great.”
Though there is not specific date for the clean up to conclude, it is expected Charter will be done with its part of the clean up by late March or early April.