Site Data

Much work has been done to better understand the extent of environmental contamination in and around the Moran Plant, examine the structural integrity of the building, determine the historic importance of the structure, analyze and map nearby wetlands, etc.  This page describes those efforts, and some other site considerations (such as zoning) that will impact development at the Moran site.


The Moran Building - Structural Analysis

The Moran building is a steel frame and masonry structure constructed in 1954 by the Burlington Electric Department.  It is built on fill that was placed between the 1850s and 1950s, and was previously used as a rail yard and, before that, for lumber processing and storage. 

During the Spring of 2008, the City hired Engineering Ventures, a local engineering firm, to assess the structural integrity of the Moran building.  They found that "the condition of the reinforced concrete material of the building’s base structure is essentially at or near its so-called original, as-built design capacity and use."  These findings clear up any questions regarding the building’s structural capacity for redevelopment.


Historic Preservation

The Moran building is over 50 years old, a threshold that triggers the inquiry into historical significance.  The Vermont Division for Historic Preservation provided Burlington’s Department of Planning & Zoning a $4,000 grant to examine the history of power generation in Burlington and the historic values of several structures on Burlington’s waterfront, including Moran. 

On September 13, 2010, after consideration by the Parks, Arts & Culture Committee; Community Development & Neighborhood Revitalization Committee; and the Board of Finance, the City Council resolved to formally submit a nomination of the Moran Municipal Generating Station to the State of Vermont State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) and to the National Park Service for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. Click here to review the National Register of Historic Places Nomination for Moran

The Burlington Historic Preservation Review Committee (BHPRC) reviewed this nomination at their meeting on October 12, 2010, and unanimously recommended this property for inclusion on the National Register to the State [BHPRC Recommendation] The Vermont Advisory Council on Historic Preservation recommended this property for inclusion on the National Register. 

The Moran Municipal Generating Station was listed on the National Register of Historic places on December 17, 2010. 


History of the Building

The 1954 Moran Municipal Generating Station is located on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain, approximately five blocks northwest of the City of Burlington’s downtown core. One of few remaining historic, brick, industrial buildings just northwest of what is now Waterfront Park, the Moran forms a small cluster with a c.1880 shavings house, an earlier, c.1905 electric light station and a c.1910 water filtration plant.

The Moran Municipal Generating Station was constructed in 1954 for the Burlington Electric Department. It is significant: in the area of industry under National Register Criterion A for its association with local and regional electric power generation and; in the area of architecture under National Register Criterion C as a model, mid-20th century coal-fired energy facility. One of few such power plants erected in Vermont, the Moran represented a distinct departure from the monumental and classically-inspired power-generating buildings of preceding eras. The building’s simple, utilitarian form was shaped by interior function and reflected current innovations and technological advancements in power plant design.

The Moran’s first turbine was set in motion in 1955 - the Burlington Electric Department’s Golden Anniversary year – and facilitated the debut of electric heat to the city in 1957. Ownership of the plant and power distribution were part of a complex regional network of power companies, including the still-operational Green Mountain Power Corporation which leased the Moran until 1969. Although it played an important role in regional power-generation until its decommissioning in 1986, the established period of significance for the Moran Municipal Generating Station extends from 1954, the date of construction, to 1960 (fifty years ago).

Fuel shortages in the 1970s forced the BED to reverse its prior position of boundless electricity availability in favor of energy frugality. New sources of fuel were sought to replace coal and oil, an effort which increased in urgency with the oil crisis and embargo of 1973-74 and the bituminous coal strike of 1977-78. In 1977, in an effort touted as good old Vermonter ingenuity, BED employees tried an experimental conversion of one of the firing units from coal to wood chips mixed with one part of heating oil. Wood chips cost $12 per ton, as opposed to $50 – which factored out to a per kilowatt hour savings of 0.7¢. At a conservative cost of $25,000 this in-house conversion took just four months from design to fabrication and installation. Approved by the New England Power Pool after a brief, three-week testing period this innovative conversion gained global attention and the support of the Vermont Department of Forests and Parks. Ironically, this resounding success sparked an earnest quest for alternative fuel sources, some of which included trash and wood chip incineration as well as harnessing the Winooski River for hydropower, and rendered the Moran largely obsolete by 1982. In 1978 Burlington voters chose to pursue the path of wood-chips as a fuel source and approved a $40 million bond for the construction of a new generating plant in Burlington’s Intervale district. Arguments for wood included the creation of local jobs, supporting local, rather than foreign economies, self reliance and, with proper inter-agency cooperation, responsible forest management. A second coal-fired unit was successfully converted at the Moran during the summer of 1979 and reinforced the validity of the vote.

Construction of what would become the Joseph C. McNeil Station began in 1982 and was completed in 1984. The Moran continued its operations and supplemented the regional power pool for an additional two years, and was decommissioned in 1986. The boilers, exterior coal conveyor and stacks were removed, although the majority of the supporting steel framework was left in place. On the interior, the turbines and other equipment were also removed. Since then, the building has largely sat vacant, save for a small portion of the basement utilized by the Lake Champlain Community Sailing Center or boat storage. Ownership of the station was formally transferred from BED to the City of Burlington in the 1990s.


Environmental Issues

Assessment Activities:

Although Burlington Electric Department did an excellent job decommissioning the coal-fired Moran electric generating plant in 1986, some environmental contamination remains in and around the building.  One of the benefits of the Moran redevelopment is that it will result in the comprehensive clean-up of the site, and the property will be put back into productive use for the citizens of Burlington.

Dating back several years—and utilizing almost $65,000 of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant money—the City has extensively documented the nature of the contamination (see above for full reports).  Here are some reports that describe conditions at the site:

As of October 2008, CEDO’s Brownfields Program no longer had funds to spend on the Moran project.  The Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission’s Brownfields Initiative (also EPA-funded) has agreed to pay for on-going groundwater monitoring, and further assessment and stabilization work at Moran.  In 2009, CEDO secured $105,000 from the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission for additional assessment and stabilization activities, including the construction this past winter of underwater dams in the intake and outflow sluiceways, to permanently separate the building from Lake Champlain.

Closing the Sluiceways:

The Moran building has intake and outflow sluiceways that allow water from Lake Champlain to occupy the sub-basement chambers that were part of the cooling process for the former power generating operations. When the plant was decommissioned in 1986, the sluiceways were left open and the sump pumps were removed. The basement floor elevation is at 96 ft – exactly the same as the average lake level. The basement floor is dry for brief periods during the year, but when the Lake rises above 96 ft the basement fills with water (in the Spring, lake levels often rise above 100 ft, and there is 4 feet of standing water in the basement!).

The City of Burlington working in cooperation with the VT Department of Environmental Conservation installed a permanent barrier between Lake Champlain and the building, since there is known contamination inside the building (we have tested the sluiceway water immediately outside the building, and there is no evidence of significant contamination).

The CCRPC funds also paid for creating a “corrective action plan” and cost estimate for cleaning up the site.  Based on that plan, the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) awarded the Moran project a $100,000 grant to begin cleaning up the inside of the building. Recovery Act funds, in the amount of $25,000, also helped with clean-up work.  That work, now completed, included removing the remaining asbestos from the building, stabilizing lead-based paint, removing more than seven tons of pigeon guano, and pumping residual water from the basement. This brings the building interior to the point where construction can begin.

Exterior clean-up, which will mostly involve removing or capping shallow soil contaminants, will be dealt with during redevelopment of the site. In the meantime, the City continues to work cooperatively with the EPA and Vermont DEC to monitor the property to protect public heath and safety.

In August 2008, the EPA selected the Moran Center as one of just 16 projects nationally for a Brownfields Sustainability Pilot program award, which will provide technical assistance to assess the feasibility of implementing the "green building" aspects of the Moran project, including on-site renewable energy production, energy and water conservation, innovative stormwater treatment techniques, and ecological enhancements at the site.  The complete EPA press release is available here



The area to the north of the Moran property was used as an above ground bulk fuel tank farm; the tanks were removed in the early 1990s.  Some of the low-lying areas surrounding the former tanks have filled with water and are “naturalizing” as emergent wetlands.  CEDO hired Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. to conduct additional wetlands analyses at the Moran Plant site.  You can view the full Moran Historic Aerial Photo Review and Wetland Documentation here.  The Conservation Board received a memo regarding the wetland on the Moran site in June 2010.


Land Use Considerations

Zoning:  As a result of the “zoning rewrite” of the Comprehensive Development Ordinance, the Moran property is now located in the newly created “Downtown Waterfront – Public Trust (DW-PT)” zone.  The DW-PT zone is “intended to enhance and diversify commercial and residential development in the downtown waterfront area, and to increase access, utilization, and enjoyment of the lakeshore by the community.  Strong emphasis is placed on enhanced public access to the lakeshore.”

Public Trust:  The “filled lands” in Burlington’s harbor are subject to the “Public Trust Doctrine,” which restricts certain uses to those specifically authorized by the Vermont General Assembly.  A map of the Public Trust Lands on Burlington’s Waterfront is available here. The underlying intent of the public trust restrictions is to ensure that public trust filled lands are available to the public on an open and nondiscriminatory basis.  The Public Trust restrictions have been incorporated into the new zoning ordinance, and are also discussed at Section 4.4.1(d)(2) of the Comprehensive Development Ordinance (on pages 4-14 and 4-15).]


Permitted Uses on Public Trust Lands North of Main Street (including the Moran site):  Only the following uses are permitted within that portion of the Downtown Waterfront – Public Trust District (DW-PT) located north of the centerline of Main Street extended:

(i) Governmental facilities: such as water and sewer plants; Coast Guard and naval facilities; roads that are accessory and transportation facilities accessory to the uses permitted under this section; or existing roads, and similarly sized extensions of those roads, that service the filled public trust lands and immediately adjacent lands;
(ii) Indoor or outdoor parks and recreation uses and facilities including parks and open space, marinas open to the public on a non-discriminatory basis, water dependent uses, boating and related services;
(iii) The arts, educational and cultural activities including theaters and museums;
(iv) Fresh water and other environmental research activities;
(v) Services related and accessory to the uses permitted under subsections (i) through (iv) of this section, including restaurants, snack bars, and retail uses and ancillary parking; only those uses that are subordinate and customarily incidental to the uses listed shall be considered as related and accessory services; and/or
(vi) Railroad, wharfing, and storage uses.
(vii) Publicly Accessible Restrooms. Any structure larger than 1000 sq. ft. in size, other than roads, parking lots, railroad tracks or recreation paths, shall include publicly accessible restrooms with appropriate exterior signs indicating their availability. The DRB may waive this provision if it so determines that adequate publicly accessible restrooms are available within close proximity.