EPA settlement at Upper Merion Superfund site could make way for new apartments

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Monday that it had reached a $1.8 million settlement with owners of a Superfund site in Upper Merion to clean up a portion of the area and pave the way for high-density housing.

The 50-acre site, known as Crater Resources, was contaminated by coking and steel operations that sent hazardous chemicals into soil and groundwater. The site contains four quarries spanning about 14 acres.

As part of the settlement, two of the quarries will be cleaned by their owner, Renaissance Land Associates, with the goal of development, according to the civil suit filing.  Renaissance Land Associates II and III completed purchase of those quarries in 2001. The two limited liability companies are under the control of O’Neill Properties.

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One of three ponds in Quarry 3, the only open quarry remaining on the site.

The site, near the Gulph Mills Golf Club, has a long history of contamination stretching to 1919, when the Alan Wood Steel Co. disposed of coking wastes in the quarries.  The Keystone Coke Co. purchased that firm in 1977 and continued until 1980 dumping  “waste ammonia liquor” at the site — a by-product of a steel plant in Conshohocken.

Tests showed the soil and quarries were contaminated with hazards including cyanide, arsenic, mercury, fluorene, ammonia, phenol and other volatile organic compounds.  The EPA placed the site on the National Priorities List of Superfund Sites in 1992.

Cleanup began in 2009, including removal of contaminated soil and building of caps designed to prevent contaminants from leaching into groundwater and to reduce the threat to public health.  Groundwater contamination is also being addressed.

Much of the site is already redeveloped, with projects including the Renaissance Park office park.  A small part of the Gulph Mills Golf Club is on the southern part of the site.

More commercial and residential projects are proposed for the 5.15 acres that contain the two quarries. EPA spokesman Roy Seneca said both will be capped before anything is built.

Upper Merion Township planner Rob Loeper said representatives of Renaissance Land Associates presented a plan in 2016 to build up to 300 multi-family units at one end of the property, provided issues were resolved with the EPA. Loeper said the units would likely be apartments.

Last year, the EPA said the company could build residential units provided the protective caps were built.  The company agreed to take the extra measures as part of the agreement reached Monday.

The EPA has been pushing to get Superfund site settlements completed to make way for development.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a recent interview with the Inquirer that some sites have been on the National Priorities List for decades.

“The Superfund area, just to speak to it generally, seemed to be languishing as we arrived,” said Pruitt, who took office in March 2017. “There didn’t seem to be sufficient focus on providing leadership.”