Common sense needed in Orrington cleanup plan

Posted Jan. 27, 2010, at 5:49 p.m.

In the summer of 2007, Gov. John Baldacci and his Commissioner of Environmental Protection David Littell called a press conference in Augusta to announce the fifth and final phase of an extensive cleanup of the former HoltraChem plant in Orrington. The governor and commissioner praised Mallinckrodt and declared that “significant” progress had been made at the site with the removal of tanks, buildings and debris that had remnants of the site’s contaminated past.

Then, a little more than a year later, in 2008, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, DEP, ordered Mallinckrodt to dig up and haul away some 360,000 tons of dirt from the site for disposal in Canada more than 300 miles away. It seemed an abrupt about-face in a process that appeared to be going in the right direction. Now, more than a year later, we remain mired in an appeal process and litigation.

While the DEP continues to drive this process, it is the residents of Orrington who have the most at stake. We have to live with the hazards and inconvenience, potential environmental risk of moving the soil and the extended loss of property tax revenues. The extensive truck and train traffic this process would create is also a ma-jor concern.

Unfortunately, it appears that the DEP has approached this situation with more consideration given to the politics of Augusta than to the needs and desires of our community. Our town has been left on the sidelines, unable to capitalize on some of the same innovative solutions that Brewer and other Maine communities have used when faced with a similar situation.

Several alternatives to the DEP order have been studied and proposed. It is time for common sense to drive this process.

Do we really need to dig up 360,000 tons of dirt and haul it by rail or 30,000 trucks through our town and many other communities only to send it some 300 miles away to Canada over the next 12 years? Do we want to risk mercury airborne contaminants caused by this process? Do we want to lose millions of dollars in tax reve-nues caused by decades of litigation when we have a willing party ready to pay for the cleanup?

Nearly $40 million has already been spent to clean up the site. Groundwater test results provide evidence that the site is well on its way to being cleaned up, thanks to Mallinckrodt.

Is Augusta playing politics in our backyard? We have lost 10 years and roughly $2 million in property taxes that could have supported our schools and town.

The residents of Orrington own more than 200 acres of mostly untouched land on the Penobscot River, beside a major energy producer on a substantial rail line just four miles from the only major intersection of Maine’s east-west and north-south highways. This represents an unparalleled opportunity for community development. It has been 10 years since HoltraChem closed and seven years since the cleanup began. Now, just as we were seeing real environmental cleanup progress by Mallinckrodt, DEP’s latest order threatens to tie up this land for another 10 years, or longer, before redevelopment can even begin.

I have confidence that the Board of Environmental Protection will listen to the residents of Orrington at the only local public hearing Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the Center Drive School and help us cut through the politics of Augusta to create a common sense solution and re-engage Mallinckrodt in an environmental cleanup which satisfies environmental concerns and returns this great riverfront asset to Orrington residents.

Richard Campbell lives in Orrington. He is a design-build contractor and former member of the Maine Legislature.

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