A bonafide piece of old New England sits near the heart of downtown Northampton, Massachusetts.
The brick Roundhouse and connected annex is a city landmark, just down the street from the vaunted Smith College and Pulaski Park.
What many residents and visitors may not know, however, is that the complex used to be part of a manufactured gas plant (MGP) used to light and heat the Northampton area by converting coal to gas.
It's just one of the many sites NiSource has spent years remediating as part of its commitment to the environment and enhancing local communities.
Part of the environmental picture
Since the mid-1800s, the Roundhouse and annex were part of an operating MGP, with the Roundhouse used to store gas and the annex used as a purifier house, storing wood chips treated with iron filings that took harmful substances out of the gas stream before its distribution to homes and businesses.
These plants dotted the country and especially the industrialized northeast until the 1950s, when the process was no longer economically viable. Interstate pipelines made it less costly to distribute natural gas across states and negated the need for each area to have its own labor-intensive manufactured gas plants, said Joe Ferry, NiSource's director of environment, safety and training - remediation.
Purifier waste, coal tar and other contaminants were often left behind, saturating soil, groundwater and sediment. Employees of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, whose predecessor, Northampton Gas Light Co., ran the MGP, spent years digging through and removing as much as 18 feet of tar- and waste-contaminated soil from the Roundhouse and a surrounding parking lot. The goal is to prevent releases or exposures from impacting the surrounding environment.
Now the area is as nice as ever. An addiction rehabilitation center is the main tenant of the Roundhouse and annex building, and the neighboring park was renovated by the city, with NiSource oversight to make sure MGP residuals posed no risk.
A long but worthy process
NiSource has remediated plants formerly operated by predecessors since the 1990s. Environmental remediation is often the first step in turning unusable and unsightly spaces into valuable community spaces. In Portsmouth, Virginia, a former MGP site became a multi-acre park near the riverfront, decked out with naval and coastal artifacts celebrating local history. In Hammond, Indiana, remediation helped to restore a portion of the Grand Calumet River, and in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, a former MGP site became a shelter for the needy.
Fort Nelson Park, dedicated in 2006, occupies the site of a former manufactured gas plant in Portsmouth, Virginia. Military artifacts dot the park to highlight the area's local history.
One shining example is in Brockton, Massachusetts, where a former MGP site became New England’s largest solar array when it was completed in 2007. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator attended the ribbon cutting for the 425 kW brightfield, which was later featured on the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s website as an example of returning a contaminated brownfield to productive use.
A solar array on the site of a former manufactured gas plant in Brockton, Massachusetts, is called a "brightfield" because it's on a contaminated commercial site, or a "brownfield." The brown circle at the top of the photo is the foundation for one of the gas holders at the former plant.
“Our team has an unwavering commitment to sustainability, and these projects are great examples of how we are protecting the environment for generations to come,” says Kelly Carmichael, vice president of environmental.
It can take as many as 20 years to completely finish a site. Working with state or federal environmental agencies, NiSource has completed 17 of more than 60 sites – with most of the remaining sites in various stages of remediation.
“We’re doing the right thing to clean these sites up and return properties to reuse in these communities,” Ferry said.
This work is part of NiSource’s long-term commitment to environmental improvements. NiSource continues to be on track to significantly reduce its carbon footprint over the coming years.