ORRINGTON, Maine — There is a rift growing in town and its origin is the mercury-contaminated property that once was used as a dumping ground when the HoltraChem plant was operating.
The division is between residents who want all of the contaminated soils removed from the site of the defunct chemical and pesticide factory and others who want a scaled-back cleanup that removes the most polluted soils and seals others in their current landfills.
Both sides spoke at a public hearing on Wednesday held to inform residents about a citizen-led referendum designed to repeal the Feb. 2 selectmen’s vote supporting a quicker rather than extensive cleanup of the former HoltraChem site.
Residents will vote April 23. The results may send a message to the Maine Board of Environmental Protection, which is deciding the scope of the cleanup.
Richard Judd, who lives downstream from the former plant and who collected signatures for the ballot question, was the first resident to speak.
“We don’t think the Select Board acted in the town’s best interest,” he said. “Mercury is a high toxic that should not be left in these dumps.”
Several residents on the other side of the divide, including Lee Washburn, who lives beside the former River Road plant, voiced their support for selectmen.
“I fully support the Board of Selectmen’s decision,” he said. The plan supported by selectmen “is by no means a quick fix or a Band-Aid.”
St. Louis-based Mallinckrodt Inc. owned and operated the plant from 1967 to 1982 and is the sole former owner still in existence. They hired Portland-based Woodard & Curran to create an alternative cleanup plan after the state Department of Environmental Protection issued an order in November 2008 that requires removal of approximately 360,000 tons of contaminated soil that now rest in five outdated landfills on the site.
Woodard & Curran’s “source removal alternative” calls for removing 73,200 tons of contaminated soils from the main polluter — Landfill 1 — and other contaminated areas, recapping Landfill 2 and leaving the other three landfills untouched.
At their Feb. 2 meeting, selectmen voted unanimously to support Mallinckrodt’s alternative.
Some upset residents started a referendum petition drive within a week.
The residents who spoke at the meeting, attended by nearly 80 people, appeared nearly evenly split between the two plans.
Swetts Pond Road resident Maynard Walton was one of three residents who asked why selectmen based their decision on data provided by a firm hired by Mallinckrodt.
“There seems to be too much Mallinckrodt,” he said. “All I hear is Mallinckrodt” and later added, “I’ve heard not enough from the state or the federal government.”
If mercury is left at the site, “maybe 40 years from now you’ll have a mother bring in a kid with one arm,” he said. Under Mallinckrodt’s plan, “We’re still going to have the causes [of pollution] out there that we don’t want.”
Town officials said repeatedly that the Woodard & Curran plan is a sound one that meets industry standards.
Representatives from Mallinckrodt, Woodard & Curran, and DEP were in the audience but were barred from speaking during the meeting. After the meeting was officially adjourned, several residents gathered around the officials from each group to ask questions.