Howland reviewing proposals to clean up abandoned tannery

Posted Oct. 22, 2009, at 9:42 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:12 p.m.

HOWLAND, Maine — The Board of Selectmen is reviewing proposals from six engineering firms to help the town clean up much of a tannery abandoned for nearly 40 years. That review should take another two or three weeks.

“We are in the process of evaluating them and calling references,” Town Manager Jane Jones said Thursday. “Next Tuesday night, the board will decide how many to interview. As many as six of them will be selected.”

About 23 requests for information about the work have been received. One consultant will be chosen from the six. The board opened the six bids at its meeting on Monday.

A $600,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant was received in May to clean up three contaminated sites from the shoreline of the town-owned, 12-acre property off Route 6. The cleanup work the consultant will address does not entail razing buildings on the site.

The tannery, which closed in 1971, has long been seen as a symbol of the town’s economic doldrums. Five times since then, the town has sold the property, which overlooks the Penobscot and Piscataquis rivers, but has had to reclaim it when owners left. Once home to 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, 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 upriver. The trust also plans to buy three other dams along the river.

The removal of contaminants is likely the largest hurdle to fully restoring the site. Selectmen have established an economic development committee to help redevelop the tannery area. Jones, meanwhile, is looking for federal funding sources to pay for razing the site’s cluster of buildings, she has said. No cost estimates are available.

“We are trying to move it right along,” Jones said. “To get the engineering consultant aboard will give them more time to prepare a draft contract to hire a construction firm to start the cleanup.”

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