Lockhart: Field of Dreams or Milton's nightmare

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The sign at the entrance of Lockhart Field has been taken down, the gate padlocked and the property posted. (Lebanon Voice photo)

MILTON - Amid little comment or discussion, Milton selectmen voted earlier this week to padlock Lockhart Field, the site of a former town landfill now being considered for an EPA-funded Brownfield Assessment Grant that could possibly determine if contamination lingers at the field where for years Nute High Schoolers have played and practiced softball.

During the selectmen's comments portion of Monday's meeting, Selectmen Chair Tom Gray said, "Lockhart Field has become such a hot topic with innuendo and suggestions, people not knowing exactly what's going on, so I am making a suggestion that we lock the field and post no trespassing till we get a handle on it."

Selectmen - with no discussion - unanimously voted to pass the motion.

Gray's move to close the field comes in the wake of recent posts on social media regarding chronic illnesses said to have afflicted Nute softball team members who played and practiced at the field while in high school.

Meanwhile, the state's Department of Environmental Services has decided to conduct a site inspection and review other data within the next two weeks to see if a preliminary determination can be made as to whether or not any environmental mitigation is necessary.

The DES review was prompted by an email from town resident Les Elder who was concerned about possible contamination at the site and possible leeching of that contamination into Milton Three Ponds.

While Michael J. Wimsatt, director of the Waste Management Division for the state's DES, said there is no current data to show any impact on Milton Three Ponds or local groundwater samples, he did note in an email to Executive Councilor Joseph Kenney that, "We will also investigate options for obtaining additional environmental data in the vicinity of the landfill."

Whether that vicinity would include Milton Three Ponds or Town Beach was not clear.

There has been lingering concern for years by area residents about the former town landfill, which was covered in topsoil but never capped like the former landfill behind the transfer station where a solar garden is now situated.

But concerns ratcheted up last week when several posts on the Milton, N.H., Facebook Page referred to nervous system disorders like MS by women claiming to be former Nute High softball team members.

One, from a woman who said she was a former Nute student and manager of the high school softball squad, said she had Transverse Myelitis, which is sometimes associated with multiple sclerosis.

While the woman's name is identified on Facebook, The Lebanon Voice will not disclose her named due to privacy concerns. The woman said she recently contacted a lawyer regarding Lockhart Field and that she would have no comment for the press at this time.

However, in her initial post, she speaks of others on the team who have been affected by what she calls the "poisons" present at Lockhart Field.

"I am an alumni from Nute/Milton... well, I have some issues going on and I'm seriously thinking about bringing it forward... our girl's softball field was built on top of the old dump... that field IS poisonous! Every single girl from that first year (I was the manager so I was there just as much) ... I will not mention names but we all have something neurological wrong with us... ," the post reads in part.

Another woman claiming to be a Nute High alum, commented "I agree that something is wrong, I also was diagnosed with MS about 16 years ago and I have heard that many of us have neurological problems."

Area residents from both Milton and Lebanon have quietly harbored fears that potential toxins from the unlined landfill could be leaching into the local aquifer, the Salmon Falls watershed and MTP.

The state's DES description of the Lockhart Field landfill notes it is inactive and that the Town of Milton "has reported to NHDES that the landfill accepted all types of solid waste generated in the Town, including municipal solid waste and construction & demolition debris, and that the landfill ceased operating in 1978." They also note that some waste was occasionally burned and that there are numerous similar former town landfills located throughout the state.

Since the Lockhart Field landfill ceased operating prior to July 10, 1981, the landfill was not required to be closed with an engineered cap, and no restrictions were imposed on use of the landfill property.

Milton constructed a ball field on the landfill sometime around or prior to 2001, according to an agency email, however, NHDES did not review or approve Milton's plan to construct a ball field on the town-owned property.

Lockhart Field is only one of several potential Brownfield Assessment Grant candidates in Milton, said Matt Sullivan, a regional planner with the Strafford Regional Planning Commission.

On Friday, Sullivan said Gray's comments on Monday when he stated Lockhart didn't qualify for a Brownfield grant weren't entirely accurate, saying the Lockhart Field's candidacy hasn't changed.

"It's the same status," Sullivan said. "It hasn't been dropped, just reprioritized."

Sullivan said much of the difficulty in assessing whether Lockhart Field should be granted funding is that so far planners have been unable to collect a paper trail as to how and when it was operating and how it was closed.

"We know there is a baseball diamond and an abandoned tennis and basketball courts; we know the field is sagging, but not much else," Sullivan said. "There is a lack of historical record on Lockhart. Usually we have a paper trail for contaminants. With Lockhart, it's all anecdotal."

Sullivan added that a search for a contaminant paper trail could be made more aggressive, but that could happen later, especially if Lockhart moves closer to securing the Brownfield Assessment.

"We haven't done all we can on the paper study front, but what we've seen hasn't provided info on contamination level," Sullivan said.

Another problem hurting the potential of a Brownfield Assessment grant is that the community seems uncertain about what a potential reuse for the field might be.

"When we ID properties we hope to have a potential for reuse or redevelopment identified," he said.

With Lockhart there isn't a clear reuse or redevelopment for that property, he added.

"We want our dollars to create an opportunity for the people," Sullivan said, adding it could be a park or housing, anything that benefit the town or public as a whole.

He said Dover did market rate housing with land that benefited from a Brownfield Assessment.

Further adding to the negatives against Lockhart getting the grant is the fact that while the town has no grand plan for development there, the actual assessment at Lockhart would be quite costly, Sullivan said.

The planning commission, which serves 18 communities, has $400,000 from the EPA to spend, including $200,000 on petroleum waste sites and $200,000 on hazardous substance sites.

The money can be disbursed anytime between now and Sept. 2018.

"We want to determine the best use of our money," Sullivan said. "It may be Lockhart, it may be somewhere else."

Sullivan said if contamination is found, the town would be responsible in a basic scenario, however "depending what we find the Feds could step in and help depending on a host of different factors.

"There's a potential it could be the town's responsibility," he added.

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