For Immediate Release - October 14, 2011

Environmental Agreement to Assist Development of Computing Center Project Site in Holyoke

Agreement ensures cleanup and revitalization of property

HOLYOKE – A new computing center planned for Holyoke took a major step towards development after the signing of an environmental agreement that will ensure the cleanup and revitalization of the property, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced today.

The Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center, planned on the site of the former Mastex Industries site in Holyoke, is the subject of a Brownfields Covenant Not to Sue Agreement (Brownfields Covenant), between Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard K. Sullivan, property owner Holyoke Gas & Electric (HG&E), and the nonprofit companies that will be building and running the computing center. The agreement limits the liability related to contamination on the property in exchange for promises to clean up the property and pursue the redevelopment project.

“This agreement will help turn an old industrial site into a key part of Holyoke’s economic future,” said AG Coakley.  “By shielding property owners and developers from liability, Brownfields Covenants can give property owners and developers the protections they need to invest in contaminated properties and revitalize urban communities and the economy.”

“As we focus on economic development opportunities across the state, many former industrial cities, like Holyoke, face challenges due to blighted and complex brownfields,” said Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray, who leads the state’s Brownfields Support Team Initiative.  “Attorney General Martha Coakley has been a great partner working with our administration to support brownfields cleanup by providing municipalities and developers with the right tools and resources to advance brownfields redevelopment.”

“Through this agreement, project partners will transform a potential liability into an asset for Holyoke and the state.  I am pleased we were able to work with the Attorney General to put this property on the road to productive use,” said Secretary Sullivan, who serves as the Commonwealth’s trustee in Natural Resource Damages cases.

The Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center, Inc. and MGHPCC Holyoke, Inc. (the Computing Center Entities) were formed by five universities (University of Massachusetts, Boston University, Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Northeastern University) to build and operate a state-of-the-art, energy-efficient and environmentally sensitive facility to support faculty research at the universities.

Under the agreement, HG&E and the Computing Center Entities will clean up the property in accordance with Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) standards, as well as build the computing center. The property is contaminated with PCBs, metals, asbestos and chlorinated solvents from its industrial history before HG&E acquired the vacant property last year. 

“This project is a major win for the Commonwealth’s Brownfield program, illustrating how the combined assistance from the Attorney General’s Office and MassDEP catalyzes both environmental cleanup and economic revitalization in ways that are protective of the environment and the public health,” said MassDEP Commissioner Kenneth Kimmell.

The Computing Center will be built at 1-3 Bigelow Street, an 8.6-acre property between the First Level and Second Level Canals in downtown Holyoke.  The canals, which were built in the 19th Century to divert waterpower from the Connecticut River and power Holyoke’s mills, still feed HG&E hydroelectric power generating stations.  In addition to using hydroelectric power from HG&E, the computing center will employ other environmentally advanced features, including LEED-certified construction and energy efficient operations

The City of Holyoke is planning for the computing center to anchor an Innovation District, and is working with the Computing Center, other businesses and planning agencies on an Innovation District Task Force to develop related high-tech businesses in the area.  The computing center project is also part of the City of Holyoke’s plan to revitalize its former industrial properties in the downtown canal district. The city produced a Center City Vision Plan in 2009 to plan for a redeveloped canal district with rehabilitated historic mill buildings and improved infrastructure to attract both business and community use. 

The AG’s Office is dedicated to facilitating cleanup and redevelopment of contaminated and underutilized properties through negotiating agreements that provide liability relief to those involved in the redevelopment. The AG’s Office works closely with property owners, developers, municipalities and state and federal officials in cleaning up and redeveloping contaminated properties throughout the Commonwealth. The Secretary is Natural Resource Trustee for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and, working through MassDEP’s natural resource damage program, will in appropriate circumstances join the brownfields covenants to provide protection from natural resource damage claims.  

In 2008, the office amended its Brownfields Covenant Program regulations to streamline the application process for future agreements and to create new incentives to redevelop abandoned or underutilized contaminated properties. Thirty-seven Brownfields Covenants have supported redevelopment at sites around the Commonwealth since the program went into effect in 2000.   

Brownfields Covenants are developed through close coordination between the Attorney General’s Office and MassDEP. Benjamin Ericson, Chief of Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Brownfields Unit, handled negotiations for the agreement, in coordination with MassDEP Brownfields Coordinator Catherine Finneran, MassDEP Natural Resource Damages Program Coordinator Karen Pelto, MassDEP Western Region staff members Ben Fish, Eva Tor and David Slowik, and MassDEP Attorneys Jane Rothchild and Lucas Rogers.