ORRINGTON, Maine — Residents who voted in a referendum Friday regarding the cleanup of the former HoltraChem Manufacturing Co. site narrowly favored a less extensive, though quicker, plan.
The vote was close, with 381 voters backing the town’s Board of Selectmen, which favors the so-called “source removal alternative,” and 357 supporting the version recommended by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, which calls for the cleanup of five landfills and removal of all contaminated soils.
The state Board of Environmental Protection, which has the final say on the cleanup, is close to deciding if all of the contaminated soils should be removed from the 235-acre Penobscot River site or if removing most of the polluted and hazardous soils and sealing others in their landfills is the best plan.
The cost would be borne by St. Louis-based Mallinckrodt Inc., which owned the plant from 1967 to 1982 and is the sole former owner still in existence.
The BEP held public hearings on the matter in Orrington and Augusta earlier this year and is expected to make a decision about the scope of the cleanup in June or July, Town Manager Paul White said Friday night. A deliberation session is scheduled for May 6 in Augusta, he said.
The cleanup issue was brought to referendum by residents upset with the selectmen’s Feb. 2 decision to go with Mallinckrodt’s less costly plan. The residents were supported by the Maine People’s Alliance, a grass-roots group that has used the courts and the DEP to push for a cleanup and has intervenor status in the legal proceedings.
Reactions to the referendum results were mixed.
“I’m glad that they supported the selectmen, but ultimately the decision is up to the BEP,” said Howard Grover, chairman of the Board of Selectmen. He noted the tally was close.
“There was only a 24-vote difference, and probably a lot of people still don’t have all the facts,” he said. “I hope this puts it to rest, but it would have been nice to have had [the referendum results] before we had to vote on this.”
Resident Margaret Parker, who favors the more extensive cleanup, said she was “pretty discouraged.” She said the earthquake that shook Orrington a few weeks ago should have opened more eyes to the need for a comprehensive cleanup.
Maine People’s Alliance organizer Ryan Tipping-Spitz said the close vote “shows that the unanimous [Board of Selectmen] … decision does not reflect the true opinion of the town. … A giant, out-of-state corporation has used vast sums of unregulated, undeclared money to beat the democratic process into submission.”