ORRINGTON, Maine — Some area residents spoke passionately about removing all of the hazardous materials from the former HoltraChem site — stressing the need to protect the river, its aquatic species and the people who live along it — during a public hearing Thursday about the scope of the proposed cleanup.
Others, however, voiced concerns that such an intense cleanup effort at the former chemical plant would delay the site’s redevelopment.
“I would just like to see the site cleaned up so businesses can come in and lower our taxes,” said Bob Wadley, who has been an Orrington resident for 76 years.
“To do less [than remove all the contaminants] would be much more costly to our community,” said resident Danielle D’Auria, a wildlife biologist.
The Maine Board of Environmental Protection, which has the final say in deciding the scope of the cleanup, is holding two weeks of hearings on the cleanup, and was host to the Thursday session at Center Drive School.
The hearings began in Augusta on Monday and will continue into next week, when officials from Orrington and from St. Louis-based Mallinckrodt, which operated a chemical factory at the site until 2000, will testify.
Officials with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection would like to see Mallinckrodt remove 360,000 tons of contaminated soil that now rest in five outdated landfills on the site.
Mallinckrodt officials are supporting a “source removal alternative” that would take out 73,200 tons of contaminated soils from the main polluter — landfill 1 — and other contaminated areas that would equal about half the amount the DEP wants gone. They’re also proposing recapping landfill 2 and leaving the other three landfills untouched on-site.
The DEP plan would cost Mallinckrodt, which already has spent around $40 million removing remnants of the former chemical factory, between $200 million and $250 million.
Mallinckrodt’s “source removal alternative” would cost around $100 million, and was “not the cheapest option,” JoAnna Schooler, company spokeswoman, said Thursday outside the hearing room. “We’re committed to doing what we need to do.”
The Maine People’s Alliance, a grass-roots group that has used the courts and DEP to push for a cleanup, has intervenor status in the legal proceedings and had four representatives on hand who pushed for a complete cleanup during the hearing.
“Their plan is really quite ridiculous — to leave and run away,” Jesse Graham, MPA member, said of Mallinckrodt. “They’re putting their bottom line above Maine citizens.”
Community acceptance of the cleanup plan is one of the criteria being considered by the BEP.
Commissioner David Littell said outside the hearing that Mallinckrodt officials are using misinformation and scare tactics to try to persuade residents that their plan is better.
The biggest piece of misinformation is the time frame for the cleanup options on the table, he said.
“The DEP is estimating it should take five years,” to remove the millions of pounds of contaminants under its plan, Littell said.
Information circulated locally by Mallinckrodt states the DEP’s plan would “require 9 to 12 years to complete.”
DEP officials testified earlier this week that the HoltraChem site remains one of the state’s top mercury polluters despite the cleanup to date. Littell said it’s because the outdated landfills in use are no more then “unlined dumps” that “all leak.”
Company officials argue that the contaminants are now buried in stable and contained landfills and that by digging up and transporting the dirt by trucks or train, the public and groundwater supplies could be needlessly exposed to mercury and other contaminants.
DEP officials point out that the landfills on the HoltraChem site were built well before any regulations or standards to protect the environment were put into place.
The former factory operated for more than three decades along the banks of the Penobscot, producing chlorine, hydrochloric acid and other chemicals for the paper industry. It was the largest taxpayer in Orrington before closing in 2000.
Resident Charles Green, who moved to town in 1972, said he just wants the site cleaned so it can be redeveloped into a tax-producing entity and leaves the river clean enough for fish and humans to use.
“I would like to see the site done properly,” he said. “Let science decide [what course to take], not emotion.”
BDN writer Kevin Miller contributed to this report.