By Steve Dwyer
Going the extra mile, that’s the brownfield way. And that’s the same approach one university team took as it garnered the 2022 Charlie Bartsch Brownfield Scholarship, established by BCONE to honor the legacy of Bartsch, the dynamic and visionary brownfields industry advocate who passed in 2017.
From left to right: Ogochukwu (Debbie) Okeke (PhD Student, Teaching Assistant for Brownfields Course), Kyla Drewry (Brownfield Course student, scholarship recipient), Randi Mendes (Postdoctoral Fellow, UConn TAB Community Liaison), Sarah Trombetta (Vice President TRC, competition judge), Mark Lewis (Brownfields Coordinator CT DEEP, competition judge and Board member of BCONE), Nefeli Bompoti (Assistant Research Professor, Civil & Environmental Engineering Department, and UConn TAB Program Manager)
To UCONN instructor Nefali Bompoti, this scholarship competition stood out from some of the others. That’s not to slight those past efforts; rather, professor Bompoti simply believes that it’s a testament to this year’s over-achieving and visionary team approach that came equipped with laser vision.
The scholarship is doled out annually to the winning collaboration at UCONN, where Prof. Bompoti is assistant research professor, CT Brownfields Initiative, Dept. of Civil & Environmental Engineering at the Storrs, Conn.-based university. The program is delivered along with fellow professor Marisa Chrysochoou, Ph.D., director of CT Brownfields Initiative.
The four students—Kyla Drewry, Jiayu Li, Remy Van Vliet and Ariana Venegas—were awarded $500 each, to be allocated toward tuition fees. The scholarship competition involved several UCONN teams within the CT Brownfields Initiative (CBI). UCONN students who participated hailed from the engineering, environmental, geology, real estate and consulting areas of study.
“This project stood out from past years due to the so many unexpected challenges that the winning team faced,” says Bompoti. “Other teams [in past years] had more ‘straightforward projects.’ This year, the team thought intently, deeply and creatively about what they were tasked with—and they demonstrated excellence to the end. That impressed the judges.”
The three BCONE judges presiding over the competition included Mark Lewis, brownfields coordinator at the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and a member of BCONE’s Board, Don Friday, project manager at the CT Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) and Sarah Trombetta, senior project manager at TRC Companies.
The UCONN students were assigned to the Ansonia, Conn. community, and when they descended on the city they delivered a holistic work blueprint: they helped the city apply for U.S. EPA grants; they prepared Phase I ESAs; they brainstormed ideas about end-uses.
The class inspired some team members to ponder a career in brownfield reclamation and/or sustainability. One is team leader Kyla Drewry. “Kyla took the lead on this team. There were challenges with the project and Kyla took charge,” says Prof. Bompoti. “Kyla is one of the brightest students I’ve had the pleasure to teach. She was always communicating and asking questions, she was very engaged.”
“The great thing about the team was that they created a story that painted a picture of cleaning up and remediating such as large complex site, where there was a lot of contamination. The team took what would be potentially be a $500,000 EPA grant award and prioritized what work should be done first and foremost.”
Bompoti says that, despite the hard work of the team, Ansonia was not eligible to receive the EPA grant as the city failed to meet all grant criteria. The city can re-apply for the grant in future years—and do so by using the UCONN team’s work as its template to proceed.
As Prof. Bompoti explained: “This site required so much more work. The $500K would only cover a fraction of all it would take. So the question was, ‘what should we address first?’ The underground and aboveground [UST’s and ASTs] storage tanks were identified as the components. There were at least 20 USTs. The team came up with this plan on their own—they prioritized the tanks for remediation,” says Bompoti.
Another issue was that Ansonia did not own the site, which added another X factor to the equation. The property was owned by a private entity, Anaconda.
Kyla Drewry on Behalf of the Team
In speaking in her own words about the Ansonia, Conn. project, Kyla Drewry says that the team was concerned with the old Anaconda Copper and Brass factory, a huge site with a 16-acre parcel on one side of the railroad and 22-acre parcel on the other.
Some challenges with the environmental risks included the close proximity of the site to the downtown area, meaning contamination could impact a larger portion of the population. “It also was nestled on the edge of the Naugatuck River, so there were concerns of contamination in the water,” Kyla explained to BCONE.
She continues: “The site itself had a full environmental preliminary assessment. This assessment showed contamination of aboveground and underground storage tanks on the site, a variety of buildings on site, in groundwater and surface water interactions with the river. Contaminants of concern included PCBs, lead, asbestos and corrosive wastes. It was a laundry list of problems—and not surprising for a site this large.”
She says that data available about the town showed an acute risk existed based on their poverty levels, asthma rates and cancer risk. In response, “the town officials were very helpful in giving us all of the available information that they had, including the site assessment and their Plan of Conservation and Development.”
Professor Bompoti, meanwhile, had great influence on Kyla’s choices after her undergraduate education. “Through the relationship we built in class, I was able to talk to her about my goals for the future. It is largely in part to my discussions with her about research and engineering overlapping with environmental justice issues that I will be pursuing my Ph.D. in environmental engineering. I will focus on drinking water equity after graduation. Hopefully remediation will be an area I can work in during my career,” Kyla explains.
While working through this project, “the most difficult thing to think through in terms of applying for funding was the fact that the site was so large and filled with a lot of contamination, that would cost much more than the grant could cover,” says Kyla.
The effort involved having to state a case for the grant money and still make an impact despite not fully remediating the site. “Our team determined that targeting the storage tanks on the site would be the best use for the grant money. The tanks are found in high quantities across the site, so remediating them will reduce large amounts of contamination throughout the whole site. Once they are dealt with, some areas may be almost entirely usable for redevelopment,” Kyla told BCONE.
In terms of end-use brainstorming, the UCONN team referred a lot to the city’s Plan of Conservation and Development. “Through reading this document and looking at the layout of the site, with so many buildings, we determined that eventually using the site as a business and commercial center would boost the economy and increase foot traffic in the area,” she says.
Incorporating green space could also increase the “social health of the area. There is also the possibility for greater manufacturing or industrial use, as the site is so large. The city’s main goal is to bring jobs and revenue in with the redevelopment of this land,” says Kyla.
Posted June 20, 2022