BROOKSVILLE, Maine — There is plenty of time for interested parties to comment on the $22.8 million proposed cleanup plan for the former Callahan mine site located in Harborside.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials agreed earlier this summer to extend the initial 30-day comment period to 60 days. The deadline for written comments is Sept. 10.
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 underwater. PCBs, petroleum-contaminated soil located at the operations area and deposits of arsenic and lead would be excavated and disposed of at an approved disposal facility.
It appears that many area residents will make their comments in writing. Just a handful of people spoke last week during the only public hearing scheduled on the cleanup plan. And, despite lingering questions and concerns among some residents, most spoke in support of the plan.
Mark Hyland, director of the Maine Bureau of Remediation and Waste Management, said the Maine Department of Environmental Protection concurs with the EPA’s proposed cleanup alternative. Hyland said the EPA proposal is “the most cost-efficient, long-term option” for the property and noted the DEP and the EPA have negotiated a “very fair” cost-sharing agreement.
Although the EPA continues its effort to force the current owners of the Callahan Mine Corp. to pay for the cleanup, EPA Project Manager Ed Hathaway has said that if it falls to the federal government, the agency will pay 90 percent of the costs, with the state picking up the remaining 10 percent.
Harborside resident Jody Spear said she was grateful to hear the state will stand behind the cleanup plan.
“It seems very thorough and it gives us reason to believe this will be a responsible cleanup,” she said.
She urged residents to contact their U.S. representatives to urge them to reinstitute the “polluter pays tax,” so that taxpayers no longer would have to pay to clean up a private company’s pollution.
Local roads were a concern. Spear urged the EPA not to change the road configurations in order to accommodate the truck traffic involved in the cleanup. And Selectman Darrell Fowler urged the agency to establish a mechanism to deal with anticipated damage to the roads.
“There ought to be funds available to repair town roads that are damaged,” he said.
Resident Albert Sandecki said he thought the EPA had done a “very fine job” with the investigation and plan. Several residents commended the EPA team for its frequent presentations about the Superfund investigation of the site and the proposed cleanup and urged them to continue to keep the community informed as the details develop.
The hearing last Thursday followed a question-and-answer session during which residents sought clarification about the proposal and raised some concerns. Selectman Richard Bakeman pointed out that underground mining had taken place before the Callahan Mine in the late 1960s and 1970s, and that shafts had been dug deeper than the level of Callahan’s open-pit operation.
Bakeman asked whether there was any danger that the contaminated materials deposited in the pit might seep into those shafts and affect nearby private wells. Hathaway said nothing in the proposed plan would change the flow of groundwater, therefore would not affect nearby wells.
“We’re not going to affect the groundwater by just partially filling this pit,” he said. “There’s no danger that we’re going to drive materials toward people’s wells.”
State Rep. Jim Schatz asked whether there was a way the agency could quantify the results of the cleanup.
“What is the net environmental benefit?” he said.
There is no environmental ranking system, according to Ken Finklestein of NOAA, which has provided technical support to the EPA.
“We’re looking at risk or no risk,” Finklestein said. “It’s not a one-to-10 thing.”
Resident Ruth Robinson had questions about the future use of the property and asked whether there will be restrictions.
Hathaway said the EPA would impose restrictions including no use of the groundwater, no residential use of the property and no disturbance of the site.
Once the EPA has reviewed public comments and adjusted the plan where needed, it will issue a record of decision by fall. The timing of the actual cleanup will depend on availability of federal Superfund money.
Written comments on the plan must be postmarked no later than Sept. 10 and may be sent to Edward Hathaway, RPM, U.S. EPA Region 1, 1 Congress St., Suite 1100 (HBT), Boston, Mass. 02114-2023. The same deadline applies to e-mail comments, which may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.