May 26, 2018
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Old tannery site checked for hazardous soil

By Diana Bowley, BDN Staff

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — After a nearly 19-year wait, entrepreneur Charles MacArthur of Sangerville could rid himself of property he owns that contains soil contaminated by a former tannery operation that closed in the 1970s.

Selectmen on Monday briefly discussed the property, which has more than 10 years of outstanding taxes due.

“There’s a lot of usable property there,” Selectman Elwood Edgerly said Monday of the approximately 36-acre parcel.

Edgerly said Tuesday that the issue will be forwarded to the board’s administrative committee and legal advice will be sought for which action, if any, should be taken.

MacArthur, who did not return phone calls Tuesday, has said in earlier years he was unaware of any contaminated soil or chemical dumping on the property when he purchased Brown’s Mills and the surrounding acreage in 1977 from the Piscataquis Development Corp. The property earlier had been conveyed by the town to the corporation.

In 1985, MacArthur sold the mill and the land it sits on to Charles Fitzgerald but kept about 36 surrounding acres. In 1989, he offered to donate the acreage to the town.

The town declined the offer, not knowing what hazards lie beneath the ground from the tannery business. And when MacArthur stopped paying property taxes, the town avoided foreclosure over the years by filing lien waivers with the county registrar of deeds.

Now that the Department of Environmental Protection has the first phase of an environmental assessment under way on the property, selectmen may move forward to resolve the issue.

The former Maine Leathers tannery, known locally now as Brown’s Mill, once was listed by the Environmental Protection Agency for consideration in the Superfund cleanup process. Clayton Maybee, then an environmental specialist with the Department of Environmental Protection, said in a 1996 Bangor Daily News story that many such sites were identified in the state.

Studies of the soil surrounding the former tannery determined in those earlier years that the contamination was not as severe as first thought and the project was removed from the Superfund cleanup. Because it didn’t rank very high with the EPA system, it was turned over to the state for enforcement.

The primary risk at the site is chromium and lead that were found in the soil by a state toxicologist, Maybee had said in the earlier interview.

When Maine Leathers was in business, it dumped sludge into small lagoons adjacent to the Piscataquis River. These would be dredged periodically and material from the lagoons would be deposited on adjacent land.

The brownfields study is being done on MacArthur’s land and Fitzgerald’s property, according to Jean Firth, the DEP’s brownfields coordinator. Brown’s Mill was not investigated previously, she said. The properties are two of 12 sites in the state either in Phase I or Phase II of a brownfields environmental assessment, she said Tuesday. The two Dover-Foxcroft sites will continue on to Phase II, she said.

The latest study is different from the previous investigation in that it is looking at MacArthur’s property for reuse, Firth said. The previous study was to identify what was there and what was needed for a remedy, she said. This study will focus on what the risks are to people using the site, according to the state official. The study also will update some of the data to see if conditions have changed, she explained.

Firth said Phase I is nearly finished and a report will be issued soon to the property owners and the town.

While the brownfields program can be used on private property in the assessment stage at the request of a town or nonprofit organization, only publicly owned properties can secure EPA funds for remedial action, Firth said.

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