Superfund lawsuit near settlement

Posted Nov. 13, 2009, at 9:44 p.m.
EPA approves cleanup plan for Superfund site in Plymouth a 700 acre protected recreational area.   (Photo courtesy of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection)
EPA approves cleanup plan for Superfund site in Plymouth a 700 acre protected recreational area. (Photo courtesy of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection)

PLYMOUTH, Maine — More than 20 years after contaminated water first was discovered in 10 homeowners’ wells, a consent agreement that outlines the final $11.2 million phase of the cleanup of a former waste oil disposal site on Sawyer Road has been filed in U.S. District Court in Bangor.

The final phase calls for a groundwater hydraulic containment system to be built next fall to capture and filter the highly contaminated groundwater at the site.

A pump station will take contaminated water, run it through a charcoal filter and put it back in the ground. By doing this, the most heavily contaminated area will be kept from spreading beyond the site, according to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

The consent agreement would settle a federal lawsuit against 81 businesses, municipalities, school districts, universities and colleges, which disposed of waste oil in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s at the Portland-Bangor Waste Oil Co. The 17 acres on which the business in Plymouth, owned by the late George West Jr., was located now is known as the Hows Corner Superfund Site.

The agreement also calls for 700 acres along Martin Stream in Plymouth Bog to be owned and managed by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife as a natural resources and recreation area, according to David Wright of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Wright said in March that the 700-acre parcel already has been bought by the 81 “potentially responsible parties,” or PRPs. The land, which will be donated to the state as part of the agreement, will remain open for snowmobiling, hunting, fishing and trapping, Wright told area residents at a public hearing in late March. The purchase price of the land has not been released.

The agreement also calls for a 50-acre parcel bought by the PRPs that abuts the existing Plymouth Water District off Route 7 be conserved to provide protection and insurance for the area water supply.

The public will have 30 days to comment on the consent agreement before a federal judge must sign off on it.

“This is an unusual site,” Mark Hyland, director of the Maine Bureau of Remediation and Waste Management, said Friday. “Usually there are one or two parties who are responsible for cleaning up the site. In this case, there were hundreds of responsible parties.”

It is believed that more than 250 entities disposed of waste oil at the site. Many of those no longer exist.

The remaining 81 entities that have been identified are unable to fund the expensive environmental cleanup on their own, according to Hyland.

Town water, land purchase mollify residents

PLYMOUTH, Maine — Despite the oil and other hazardous substances that are leaching through the ground under their homes, residents of southeastern Plymouth said the nearby pollution doesn’t significantly affect their lives.

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To help fund environmental cleanups around the state, the Legislature in 2007 passed a bill implementing fees on oil, lubricants and oil changes that goes to the Finance Authority of Maine. The actual $11.2 million to fund the Hows Superfund project will be provided through bonds issued by FAME, Hyland said.

The 81 entities will still be responsible for legal fees, and they funded the land purchases involved in the consent agreement.

FAME is holding $14.2 million in a trust account toward the cleanup in case the cost estimates are low, Hyland said.

Among those involved in the consent agreement are the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the Maine Attorney General, General Electric Corp. and the PRPs, he said.

The list of PRPs includes Bangor, Brewer, Caribou, Lincoln, Houlton, the Maine Department of Transportation, the University of Maine System, the Maine State Police, Baxter State Park, Husson College, Eastern Maine Community College, International Paper Co. and numerous car dealerships, tire companies, garages and other small and medium–sized businesses.

Three settling parties — Bangor Hydro-Electric Co., Highliner Foods and the Maine National Guard — are not eligible for FAME money and must pay a total of $644,838 toward the cleanup. They did not qualify for funding under FAME’s guidelines, Hyland said Friday.

The designated Superfund site covers 17 acres on Sawyer Road in Plymouth, according to the DEP. Two acres of that parcel was operated primarily as a waste oil facility between 1965 and 1980. The waste oil, along with solvents used to clean machine and motor parts, were stored in eight aboveground storage tanks ranging in volume from 1,000 to 20,000 gallons.

West, now deceased, halted operation in 1980, according to the DEP, just before the implementation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which was aimed at better regulating the disposal of hazardous waste and the cleanup of facilities similar to West’s.

During its operation, the firm received and legally disposed of more than 235,000 gallons of waste oil and other liquids. Much of the waste was separated based on density, according to the DEP. The lighter oils were sold to greenhouses, paper companies and others as fuel, and heavier oils were spread on dirt roads for dust control. Some of the waste spilled and leaked into the ground polluting the soil and groundwater, contaminating 41 home wells and 200 acres.

The extent of the pollution was discovered in 1988 when well water at 10 nearby residences was found to be contaminated. In 1990 and 1991, the EPA installed a fence around the 2-acre parcel where the tanks were stored and removed about 877 tons of contaminated soil, Wright said.

In 1994, the federal and state environmental agencies completed construction of a public water supply system that provided safe water to 33 residents surrounding the site. The next year, the site was placed on the Superfund list.

The public water system was expanded in 2003 and 2004, according to the DEP. A water tower was added, water mains were extended and residences were added to the system, bringing the initial cost of the cleanup to $8 million, which came from federal Superfund money.

That’s also when the groundwater hydraulic containment system to capture and filter the highly contaminated groundwater was proposed.

Hyland said Friday that this would be a final settlement in what has been a decades-long saga.

“Businesses, municipalities, schools and other entities will finally get closure,” he said. “Some have been worrying that they would be paying for this forever.”

Houlton Town Manager Doug Hazlett announced in late August that the municipality had signed onto the settlement agreement.

“This is a really good settlement for us, being one of the PRPs,” he said. “We will not go bankrupt, but we will pay for what we have been told is our share of the cost. I think everyone is glad this is over.”

Houlton reportedly sent 270 gallons to West’s business for disposal.

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