HOWLAND, mAINE — A $600,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant the town recently was awarded will help clean contaminants from a former Penobscot River tannery abandoned for nearly 40 years but won’t raze the tannery buildings, Town Manager Jane Jones said Wednesday.
The grant money allocates about $200,000 each to clean three contaminated sites from the shoreline of the town-owned 12-acre property off Route 6. It likely will allow cleanup work to begin in August if town officials can file a plan with the EPA by June 15, Jones said.
“On a federal program like that, that is really fast-tracking it, which is excellent,” Jones said Wednesday. “Not only is the money getting into the local economy, but the project will be moving at a very rapid pace.”
When the grant was awarded on May 11, Rich Campbell, a senior geologist with Campbell Environmental Group of Falmouth, which is working with the town to redevelop the site, said the money likely would be enough to raze the buildings.
But Jones since has learned otherwise. No estimates are available on the cost of razing the site’s cluster of buildings, she said. Jones will attend an EPA training program in Massachusetts next week to learn brownfield cleanup procedures, she said. The Board of Selectmen will meet within a few days of her return to discuss how to proceed.
“It is a very tight schedule,” Jones said.
Five times since 1971 the town has sold the property, which overlooks the Penobscot and Piscataquis rivers, but has had to reclaim it when owners left. Once the home of the town’s largest employer, the tannery site has loomed large in more recent revitalization plans that proponents hope to realize by 2012.
The Penobscot River Restoration Trust plans to build a fish bypass near the tannery site, green some tannery land, raze the crumbling tannery building and dig a channel for the bypass as part of opening nearly 1,000 miles of habitat to Atlantic salmon, alewives and other sea-run fish now blocked from migrating upstream. The trust also plans to buy three other dams along the river.
Maine Department of Transportation officials, meanwhile, will build a new bridge over the river starting next year.
Selectman Leeman King is glad the cleanup work is coming together.
“Taking the pollution out of there will take care of it,” he said Wednesday. “It will put the land back in circulation and improve it a lot. It’s not much good the way it is. We don’t really know too much about it [the cleanup process] yet, other than we got the grant money.”
Jones agreed, saying the removal of contaminants was likely the largest hurdle to fully restoring the site. Selectmen discussed at a meeting on Wednesday establishing an economic development committee to help redevelop the tannery area. Jones, meanwhile, is looking for federal funding sources to pay for the razing of the buildings.
“The town has done a really good job in getting the foundation work done,” Jones said in reference to the identification of site contaminants. She and other project proponents are pursuing several tracks to finish the work begun by retired Town Manager Glenna Armour and others.