On December 15, 2022

Food Center moves forward on environmental contamination clean-up

By Katy Savage

Digging into soil found no evidence of underground storage tanks at the Vermont Farmers Food Center — a relief to the organization’s leaders as they try to remedy an environmental contamination.

“That was best case scenario, that’s what we were hoping for,” said VFFC Executive Director Heidi Lynch, explaining the process to remove the tanks would be costly and time consuming.

“We now have all the information we need and will be moving forward.”

The dig was done Dec. 7 and was part of a clean-up required by the state after the state ordered the Farmers Hall building at the food center to close in January. Environmental testing at that time found high levels of trichloroethylene, a carcinogenic, in the air.

Additional testing over the summer involving a sonar device detected two masses that were once believed to be underground fuel tanks leftover from General Electric, the previous owners of the property.

Elisabeth Kulas, a consultant working with the food center, said the dig revealed one of the masses was actually an industrial scale that was likely used by GE. The other mass was a 10-foot hole filled back in with 1-inch stones.

“Was there something there that was removed and just backfilled with stone? We don’t know,” Kulas said. “What we know is it wasn’t a tank.”

The environmental studies were done as a necessary step the food center seeks to expand and make the food center and make it a food hub and incubator space.

Vermont Farmers’ Market, a tenant of the Food Center, has been displaced for two winters in the process. The Farmers’ Market is currently at the Franklin Conference Center until next spring.

“This whole environmental assessment was just one of the preliminary steps part of our greater campus renovation projects,” Lynch said.

TCE, a chemical used in industrial degreasers, was also found beneath the soil of the main building. Lynch said the next step is for the Vermont Farmers Food Center to submit a correction action plan to the state.

“There’s a step between where we are now and that plan, which is to evaluate what the various options are,” Lynch said.

Lynch said they’ll start to implement the plan in the summer of 2023 with the hope of reopening shortly thereafter.

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