BROOKSVILLE, Maine — Residents wanted more time to study and comment on the proposed cleanup plan for the former Callahan mine site, and they got it.
After some discussion during an informational meeting Thursday, Ed Hathaway, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s project manager for the mine cleanup project, agreed to extend the formal comment period on the plan by 30 days.
The formal comment period began Friday and, according to Hathaway, will be extended until Sept. 10.
State Rep. Jim Schatz, D-Blue Hill, broached the idea of extending the comment period.
“Extending the comment period will allow the community to be better informed and to ferret out some of the design issues,” he said.
Others suggested that the original 30 days was not enough time to make informed comments or to allow for local discussion of the plan.
“An extension will give us time for people to get together with the select people and without the DEP and the EPA,” said resident Mike Maynard.
Although the mine was named a SuperFund site in 2002 and the EPA has provided updates on the study, some residents felt they were being rushed into making a judgment on the plan. Most, however, seemed satisfied with the 60-day comment period.
Hathaway reminded residents that EPA had provided a technical assistance grant, which has been administered by the Marine Environmental Research Institute in Blue Hill. If townspeople have technical questions about the plan, he said, they can draw on that grant and the technical advisers that have been hired to review the plan.
Some residents feared that drawing out the comment period might be a delaying tactic and that the state might be trying to back out of the cleanup project.
“This is the last chance the town of Brooksville has to get this cleaned up,” said Brooksville Selectman Darrell Fowler. “I want to know if the state is trying to renege on its responsibility in this.”
Both Schatz and state Sen. Dennis Damon, D-Hancock, denied that was the case.
Damon said the state is committed to clean up the site and resolve the problem once and for all. Schatz said he was interested only in making sure the final plan makes sense.
“The state had no intention of sidestepping its responsibility,” he said. “With the 60 days we’ll have a lot of opportunity to interact with the TAG people and others to look at the technical details and help make this happen in a wise way.”
The proposed cleanup plan calls for capping the tailings impoundment and disposing of the materials from the ore pad, mine operations area and waste rock pile No. 3, as well as contaminated sediment in the former mine pit which is now under water. PCBs and petroleum-contaminated soil located at the operations area would be excavated and disposed of at an approved disposal facility. The estimated cost of the project is $22.8 million.
Disposing of the largest amount of materials in the pit will help to limit truck traffic on local roads, which has been a concern of residents. Some trucking will occur with the removal of the PCBs from the site.
Residents had questions about the process of disposing materials in the mine pit and raised concerns about whether the disposal would spread contaminated materials in Goose Pond and beyond. Hathaway stressed that the details would be worked out during the design phase of the project but added that there were methods available to prevent dispersal of the contaminated materials.
The process will involve a long, flexible pipe that runs to the bottom of the pit. That pipe will vacuum material from the contaminated areas and deposit it in the pit.
“They go right to the bottom and then they back up,” Hathaway said, “filling it as they go.”
Because the pit is more than 300 feet deep the materials will remain below any area where there is a danger of being disturbed by motion of surface water.
Hathaway had provided a recap of the study findings from the past several years, which showed unacceptably high levels of arsenic, copper, zinc and lead around the mine site.
One woman asked the health effects of exposure to arsenic and lead.
Alice Dyer, a summer resident whose family once owned land around the mine site, said she and members of her family had been plagued by health problems most of their lives. She lived near Dyer Cove before the Callahan Mine began operations, but, she pointed out, there had been mine operations in that area on and off since the 1880s.
She said she recently discovered the reason for her health problems and it is related to the contaminants at the mine site.
“I grew up on Dyer Cove and I ate the clams from the pond,” she said. “I now have high levels of arsenic and lead in my system. So it makes you sick.”
A public hearing on the plan is scheduled for Aug. 6 at the Brooksville Town Office. Written comments can be mailed to Edward Hathaway, U.S. EPA Region, 1 Congress St. Suite 1100 (HBT), Boston, MA 02114-2023, or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information about the plan is available from the EPA at www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/npt/me.htm#statelist or at the Brooksville Free Public Library.