EPA may fast-track portion of mine cleanup

Posted Feb. 09, 2010, at 10:39 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:47 a.m.

BROOKSVILLE, Maine — Federal environmental officials continue to plan the cleanup of the Superfund site at the former Callahan mine on Cape Rosier, but the project manager for the cleanup said it may be possible to accelerate work on localized contamination of specific concern to local residents.

Ed Hathaway, the project manager with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said Tuesday that it may be possible to remove a concentration of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, from the former mining site, and to remove soil contaminated with lead and arsenic from private property near the mine site, before starting on the major portion of the cleanup.

A best-case scenario could see activity on those sites as early as fall, but Hathaway said it was more likely to be the summer of 2011 before work can begin.

Even that would be an accelerated schedule, he said.

“Remember, it took five years to complete the investigation on the site,” he said. “To do something a year and a half after the record of decision is moving pretty fast for us. But we agree with the sentiment of the [public] comments to go even faster.”

In October, the EPA signed a record of decision for the mine site which outlined the scope of the cleanup, including the specific contaminants involved and their location in and around the mine site.

In addition to the removal of PCBs and the lead- and arsenic-contaminated soils, the cleanup plan calls for much of the contaminated materials — at the ore pad, the mine operations area and one of the waste rock piles, as well as contaminated sediment — to be disposed of in the former mine pit, which was flooded when mine operations ceased in 1972 and is now underwater. It also calls for an impermeable cap over the tailings impoundment.

During the public hearing process on the plan, Brooksville residents urged the agency to find a way to deal quickly with the PCBs, lead and arsenic.

“We agree with the public comments that those areas should be dealt with as soon as possible,” Hathaway said.

The EPA is working with the Maine Departments of Environmental Protection and Transportation to work through the development of plans to move forward on the overall cleanup, including the process for developing the detailed engineering plans for the cleanup. Part of those discussions, Hathaway said, has been looking at breaking out the two smaller projects to be tackled earlier.

“By late spring, we should be able to give people an idea of what the schedule is going to be,” he said. “And by the end of the summer, if things go well, we should know if we’re going to get funding for the project. If you’re optimistic and everything falls into place, we could start work later this fall. But most likely, it will be the summer of 2011.”

Funding is the key. The cost for the entire cleanup was estimated at $23 million. Hathaway said the two priority projects accounted for about 10 percent of the total project cost. Breaking them out to be done separately adds some cost, but Hathaway estimated it would cost between $2 million and $3 million to complete those projects.

Moving up the cleanup for those two areas also accelerates the state’s payment toward the cleanup. Although the EPA has identified several potentially responsible parties, it has been difficult to find legal ways to force them to pay a portion of the cleanup costs. It appears that the EPA and the state will share the cost of the cleanup 90-10, with the federal agency paying the lion’s share.

“This may be a mixed blessing,” Hathaway said. “By splitting off those projects, we’re also speeding up the state’s payment. They’re going to have to come up with 10 percent of that cost.”

Callahan Mining Co. did extensive mining at the site in the late 1960s and early 1970s, extracting an estimated 800,000 tons of rock containing copper, zinc, lead and traces of silver from the open-pit site. About 5 million tons of waste rock containing contaminants also was removed from the mine and deposited on the site.

The mine site was listed as a Superfund site in 2002.

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