Connecticut River in Holyoke, MA

1852, 1990 and ongoing

2004 at $500,000


Holyoke Gas & Electric Department and Holyoke Water Power Company

MA Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA)
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)

Release of coal tar into the Connecticut River resulting from the manufacturing of combustible gas from coal for over 100 years

Surface water, fisheries, rare freshwater mussels

Restoration planning is ongoing

Proposed Amendment to Final Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment, Holyoke Coal Tar Deposits and Former Holyoke Gas Works, Connecticut River November 2015  pdf format of Connecticut River WQAR
doc format of                             Proposed Amendment to Final Restoration Plan
Final Restoration Plan & Environmental Assessment - Holyoke Coal Tar Deposits And Former Holyoke Gas Works Connecticut River  pdf format of Final Restoration Plan & Environmental Assessment
file size 5MB

Holyoke Coal Tar Site (RTN 1-1055) NRD Case Settlement

In 2004, state and federal natural resource Trustees reached a settlement agreement with the Holyoke Gas & Electric Department and the Holyoke Water Company for natural resource damages in the amount of $345,000.

Natural Resource Trustees

Trustees for the Holyoke Coal Tar Site (RTN 1-1055) include the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Site History

The former Gas Works in Holyoke manufactured combustible gas from coal and oil for residential, commercial, and industrial heating and lighting from 1852 to 1951. The former Gas Works once occupied a 2-acre peninsula on the Connecticut River 1500 feet downstream of the Holyoke Dam. Historic operations resulted in large releases of tar and oil to soil, groundwater, sediment, and surface water. In 1990, oil/tar was observed discharging into the Hadley Falls tailrace and reported to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (Mass DEP). The Gas Works utilized two types of manufacturing processes: coal carbonization and the carbureted water-gas process. Each process generated tar as a by-product, namely coal tar and carbureted water-gas tar. According to records research and calculations performed by Mass DEP, this manufactured gas plant ("MGP") produced approximately ten million gallons of MGP tar during its 100 years of operations.

Assessment and cleanup are required under the Massachusetts Contingency Plan (M.G.L. Chapter 21E) and Mass DEP provides oversight. The potentially responsible parties (PRPs), conducting the cleanup work, are the former owner/operators of the facility: Holyoke Water Power Company (HWP), owner/operator from 1852-1902, Holyoke Gas & Electric Department (HG&E), owner/operator from 1902-1952, and the City of Holyoke. Northeast Utilities Service Company, agent for HWP, is conducting the cleanup of tar deposits in the river (RTN 1-1055), and HG&E is conducting the cleanup of the upland area and the No.2 Raceway (RTN 1-816).

Between 2002 and 2006, 11,714 cubic yards of tar and tarry sediment were removed. The removal was accomplished using mechanical excavation in dry (dewatered) areas and in wet excavations where dewatering was impractical or not feasible. The work was performed during summer and fall months to avoid critical fish life cycles, migratory periods, and dangerous high flow conditions. Mussel and fish relocation were conducted to reduce exposures in work areas. The Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program provided oversight to a mussel removal and relocation program that resulted in the relocation of 26,000 mussels between 2002 and 2005. Additional studies of the river contamination are on-going as overseen by Mass DEP.

Injured Natural Resources

Releases of MGP tar attributable to the Site have caused injuries to natural resources of the Connecticut River. The tar deposits exist in an area known to provide spawning habitat for the federally endangered short-nose sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum). Tar deposits also coexist in habitat for two state-protected mussel species, the Tidewater mucket (Ligumia ochracea) and Yellow lampmussel (Lampsilis cariosa), and numerous finfish and common mussel species.

Two types of MGP tar patches, "hard" and "soft," have been characterized in the vicinity of the Site. Both types of tar patches are inhospitable to burrowing benthic fauna, such as freshwater mussels, and to some epifauna that rely on coarser-textured substrates for shelter. A decrease in the benthic community produces a decrease in the foraging opportunities for other components of the ecosystem, such as finfish. In this manner, MGP tar patches produce ecological damage by destroying habitat for benthic organisms and for the organisms that depend on the benthic community as food.

Restoration Planning

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (the Trustees) are seeking public review and comment on a proposed amendment to the 2012 Final Restoration Plan for the Holyoke Coal Tar and Former Holyoke Gas Works Natural Resource Damages settlement (“the plan”). The amendment modifies the plan to provide up to $30,000 in settlement funds to the Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration to remove a timber crib dam discovered following the removal of the Bartlett Rod Shop Company Dam on Amethyst Brook in Pelham, MA. In addition, the amendment provides the City of Holyoke Conservation Commission with up to $22,073 for the removal, control, management, and study of, and planning for invasive water chestnut at Log Pond Cove on the Connecticut River in Holyoke.

The digital copy of the amendment is available on the NOAA Damage Assessment, Remediation and Restoration Program (DARRP) website http://www.darrp.noaa.gov. and on the MassDEP NRD Program website (See “Additional Resources” in the chart above; hard copies of the amendment are available at the public libraries in Holyoke and Pelham. Public comment will be accepted through November 25, 2015 at 4:30 p.m.  Written comments should be submitted to: Mr. James G. Turek, NOAA Restoration Center, 28 Tarzwell Drive, Narragansett, RI 02882; or by e-mailing to: James.G.Turek@noaa.gov.

Holyoke Coal Tar Site Trustee Contacts

Mass Department of Environmental Protection

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
James Turek

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Molly Sperduto