Concerns prompt Howland tannery facility inspection

Posted March 30, 2010, at 9 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:03 p.m.

HOWLAND, Maine — Fears that one of the three smaller buildings at the former Howland Tannery site might collapse prompted Town Manager Jane Jones to have a structural engineer tour the site on Monday, she said Tuesday.

One of the rear walls to the building in question looks as if it is beginning to buckle. Jones didn’t believe that the building, which is south of the large main building, was in imminent danger of collapse, but that judgment is best left to the engineer, she said. She expected to hear from him within a few days.

“It is a rubble issue. The good thing about it is that there are no contaminant issues,” Jones said Tuesday, “and of all of them, the big front building is in the best shape.”

Once home to the town’s largest employer, the tannery site is part of Penobscot River Restoration Trust plans to build a fish bypass, green some tannery land, and dig a channel for the bypass in a project designed to open nearly 1,000 miles of habitat to Atlantic salmon, alewives and other sea-run fish now blocked from migrating upriver. The trust plans to buy two other river dams and complete the project by 2012.

As part of the project, town officials hope to develop contaminated land not occupied by the bypass. The town was awarded a $600,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant in May 2009 to pay for the removal of contaminants left on three shoreline spots. A feasibility study indicated that removing all buildings and con-taminants would cost about $4 million, Jones has said.

As part of the land’s rehabilitation, the Board of Selectmen opted during a meeting on Monday to form a committee that would determine the economic future of the site and also formulate economic plans for other town areas, including land near Exit 217 of Interstate 95, Jones said.

“That is a prime location in terms of transportation and visibility,” Jones said of the area by the exit.

The committee’s efforts to collect data and formulate a plan could be aided by a $10,000 Community Development Block Grant available through the state Department of Economic and Community Development that the town will likely apply for, Jones said.

Appointments to the new committee and formal approval to apply for the grant will likely come during the selectmen’s meeting on April 12, Jones said.

“What we are trying to do is create balance between active community involvement and avoiding burnout or ‘not one more meeting’ syndrome,” Jones said, adding that the planning and development process could be long.

Jones also continues to seek federal or state funding for razing of the buildings. Total site cleanup could cost about $4 million.

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