Restoration, Resiliency, and Renewal in ‘America’s Hometown’

December 7, 2022

Brownfield projects are in CEC’s DNA, harkening to the firm’s roots in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Tim Murphy, CEC’s Corporate Public Sector Market Group Lead, says CEC has a 30 plus-year history with large sites in the City of Pittsburgh and along its rivers. That expertise has now extended far and wide to reclamation of contaminated sites all across the country.

Brownfield projects don’t just include old manufacturing sites and steel mills. In fact, CEC has been integral in a series of impressive restoration and renewal projects that have taken place in one of America’s oldest towns — Plymouth, Massachusetts, with Jon Kitchen, Environmental Principal in CEC’s Boston office, at the helm.

Modernizing centuries-old sites and structures presented a unique blending of restoration with renovation and reimagining in the quaint and iconic New England town of Plymouth.

A spectacular view of the harbor from atop the pergola
in the Plymouth Town Hall.

Plymouth is the site of the colony founded in 1620 by the Pilgrims.

It is about 40 miles south of Boston in a region known as the South Shore. It’s a mecca for tourists and history buffs, alike.

In 1820, a courthouse was built in celebration of Plymouth’s 200th anniversary. The structure sat in the heart of downtown and after almost 200 years of additions and patchwork repairs, the courts moved out of the building in 2008 and a new vision was required for this historic building. The Town of Plymouth purchased the building in 2009 and leased the property to the Plymouth Redevelopment Authority (PRA) for redevelopment.

In preparation for the 400th anniversary celebration in 2020, the building was renovated to become the gateway to a new town hall complex.

In early 2015, CEC was engaged to assess site conditions prior to issuing a request for bids for the demolition of several buildings within the footprint of the new complex and the partial demolition of newer portions of the courthouse. With demolition scheduled for the winter of 2015, CEC was tasked with completing an assessment of a two-and a-half-block area with several current and former buildings in a matter of weeks.

CEC, understanding the historical significance of the building, worked carefully with the town officials to plan the execution of certain testing such as destructive building materials testing.

“The brick shell of the old courthouse was re-imagined as office suites, with a beautiful glass lobby leading from the old to the new building,” says David Gould, Plymouth’s Director of the Department of Marine and Environmental Affairs (DMEA).

While the town hall project combines old-school charm and modern amenities, it was not without its challenges, Gould adds. A simple parking lot renovation for the new facility proved especially troublesome.

A pair of former schools on the property had been demolished years earlier, with all of the debris swept into the foundation and paved over for a parking lot. The lot had developed sinkholes over the years due to the shifting, buried asbestos-laden building materials.

To address these issues, CEC promptly determined the approximate volume of waste and prepared bid documents relating to the waste. CEC also located and uncovered an underground storage tank (UST) that had been reported but was unable to be located by prior consultants.

During the course of the project, CEC provided a number of services including due diligence/facility assessment, environmental site investigations, geotechnical investigations, pre-demolition building surveys, asbestos sampling and consulting, and hazardous materials inventories.

This Plymouth project involved the capping of zinc-contaminated soil beneath a parking lot between Plymouth Harbor and Water Street.

It was the site of the former Revere Copper plant, dating back nearly 100 years. With CEC’s assistance, the town garnered three EPA brownfield cleanup grants for the work on three lots on Water Street.The lots were part of a former wetland that was presumably filled with contaminated materials containing zinc. Ongoing storm damage to the site was creating the potential eco-hazard risk of this material entering the harbor and bay.

“Trucking it all out was not feasible. We worked with CEC to cap the site, similar to a landfill,” Gould says.

By capping it, rebuilding the coastal revetment, and removing the traditional stormwater system in favor of a bioretention facility, DMEA was able to stabilize the site and protect the marine environment.

“It doesn’t get a lot of notoriety, but to me this was the single-most important project in the redevelopment of the harbor,” he says.


With CEC’s assistance, Plymouth garnered three EPA brownfield cleanup grants for the work on three lots on Water Street at the former Revere Copper plant.

Town Brook is a 1.5-mile stream in Plymouth that supplied drinking water to the Pilgrims who made their homes adjacent to the brook.

Town Brook plays host to an annual migration of river herring each spring. Two species of herring are an anadromous species, meaning they migrate from the Atlantic Ocean up these freshwater rivers to spawn every year.

The herring were an important food source for both the Native Americans and the Pilgrims, who settled in the area. In addition to feeding the masses, the herring also provided fertilization to the corn crops. The Native Americans shared that fact with the Pilgrims.

A series of six dams, dating back to 1638, along the waterway had a serious impact on these fish making their way to their spawning grounds. A recently completed series of projects left the stream free and clear with just one dam for the fish to navigate through now.

“Jon (Kitchen) has been amazingly integral to this project,” Gould says. His knowledge as a Massachusetts Licensed Site Professional (LSP) was a key element in the successful outcome of this design.

This complex project removed not only the dam structures, but also a former mill and the sediment that had accumulated in the various impoundments over decades and decades.

“As an LSP, Jon guided us through all of the state regulations and disposal options. He had the information about the cost of disposal of the sediment, the dam removals, and the sediment sampling process, and he employed his knowledge of local landfills and tipping rates,” Gould says.

CEC was involved in the management of contaminated sediments from the impoundments downgradient of the mill.

CEC and its project partners were the reciepients of an “outstanding collaboration” award by the Environmental Business Council of New England for that phase of the project. The removal of the mill was funded, in part, by brownfields grants from MassDevelopment, the Commonwealth’s development finance agency and land bank, which works with businesses, nonprofits, banks, and communities to stimulate economic growth. Other properties along the river with an industrial past were also addressed as part of this initiative.

This project is especially close to Gould’s heart, whose family dates back to the Mayflower and Plymouth’s Pilgrim settlers.

“The river health is what I’m most passionate about.”

The restoration of a new channel with improved habitat and water quality has helped residents, fish, and wildlife.

The herring run is a spring rite of passage, which attracts thousands of visitors to Plymouth.
In fact, the town holds an annual Herring Festival, a life re-affirming event after a long Massachusetts winter. “It’s on April 23, the day after Earth Day,” he says.

Another species benefiting from CEC’s expertise in dam removal are the eels heading back out from the fresh water to spawn in the Sargasso Sea. “Kids are fascinated by the eels. It’s very cool to see,” Gould says.

“We are grateful we get to choose to work with people who we have faith in and put our trust in … Jon (Kitchen) is a rock star.”

During the renovations of Town Brook, the Plymco Dam was removed,
improving habitat and water quality.

The goal of a brownfield redevelopment is to put a property back into productive use—a goal and a process in which CEC takes pride by offering our expertise, experience, and a personal touch.
The success of these projects in Plymouth shows the depth and breadth of the services offered by CEC. “These revitalization projects illustrate how CEC can stretch that goal with coastal resiliency, ecological protection, ecosystem restoration, and public infrastructure benefits,” Kitchen says.

As a full-service, multi-disciplined firm, CEC brings a comprehensive approach to brownfield redevelopment where our engineers and environmental specialists work together to provide synergistic solutions that optimize reuse of a property through the site design process and the use of practical engineering and institutional controls.

While we are certainly capable of approaching brownfields from a traditional perspective, CEC likes to approach every project from a fresh perspective. This is why CEC was the right consultant to work on these sites. “We take an economic development opportunity with environmental challenges, assess it, clean it up, and repurpose it. CEC can do all aspects of the project — start to finish,” Murphy adds. 


About the Author

CEC Staff

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, Civil & Environmental Consultants, Inc. (CEC) provides comprehensive market-oriented consulting services to advance client strategic business objectives. CEC is recognized for delivering innovative design solutions and integrated expertise in air quality, civil engineering, ecological sciences, environmental engineering and sciences, manufacturing infrastructure services, survey/geospatial, waste management, and water resources.

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