ORRINGTON, Maine — Residents watched as the old HoltraChem factory closed its site along the Penobscot River a decade ago, and as cleanup crews began to remove the contaminated buildings and the tons of hazardous waste left behind.
Some participated in public debates about the cleanup efforts and some testified before the Maine Board of Environmental Protection, but others have just waited and watched.
Today, residents will have the opportunity to vote on the cleanup issue. Polls are open 8 a.m.-6 p.m. at the town hall.
Some say residents who vote today finally will be sending a message to those listening about how much of the hazardous waste and contaminated soils they would like removed from the defunct chemical and pesticide factory. Others, including the town manager and the BEP’s attorney, say the vote means little.
The BEP now is deciding whether all of the contaminated soils should be removed from the 235-acre Penobscot River site, or whether removing most of the polluted and hazardous soils and sealing others in their current landfills is the best plan.
The BEP held public hearings about the cleanup in Orrington and Augusta in late January and early February and is expected to make a decision about the scope of the project in the next month or so.
“The board cannot comment on the Orrington referendum process, since it is separate from the board’s proceedings,” Jan McClintock, assistant attorney general who is representing the board, said Thursday.
Town Manager Paul White was the lone town official to testify before the BEP panel on the last day of hearings.
He said he was directed by the Board of Selectmen, which voted on Feb. 2, to tell the BEP to avoid further delays and to proceed with the “source-removal alternative” proposed by St. Louis-based Mallinckrodt Inc., which owned and operated the plant from 1967 to 1982 and is the sole former owner still in existence.
The town owns the land through tax delinquency and Mallinckrodt is responsible for the cleanup.
The town endorsed the Mallinckrodt plan with the conditions that the company buy the landfills and other contaminated areas, pay for future on-site treatment and maintenance costs, and add infrastructure such as water lines and roads.
The company, in a letter presented to town leaders on April 12, formally agreed to the conditions.
Mallinckrodt hired Portland-based engineering and science firm Woodard & Curran to create an alternative cleanup plan after the state Department of Environmental Protection issued an order in November 2008 requiring the company to remove approximately 360,000 tons of contaminated soil from five outdated landfills on the site.
Woodard & Curran’s “source-removal alternative” calls for removing 73,200 tons of contaminated soils from Landfill 1, which abuts the river and contains a mercury-saturated lagoon, and other contaminated areas, recapping Landfill 2 and leaving the other three landfills untouched on-site.
Residents upset with the selectmen’s decision started a petition drive to get a referendum before voters. They were supported by the Maine People’s Alliance, a grass-roots group that has used the courts and DEP to push for a cleanup. The alliance has intervenor status in the legal proceedings.
The wording of today’s ballot will read: “On Feb. 2, 2010, the Orrington Board of Selectmen voted to support a remediation plan for the Holtra-Chem site, known as the Woodard and Curran plan. Shall the above described action be repealed?”
White said last week the BEP has closed its hearings, so the referendum vote will change little.
“The vote, I don’t see will do anything other than send a message to the Board of Selectmen that they do not agree with” their decision to back Mallinckrodt’s plan, he said.
Others in town disagree and say residents, who have never voted on the issue, finally will be able to send a message as a group.
“We have not had a vote or been provided any written materials,” resident Margaret Parker has said. “We really don’t know” what others in town think about the cleanup plans.