April 26, 2018
Mid-Maine Latest News | Poll Questions | Eugene Cole | EMHS | Turkey Hunt

Decree settles Plymouth waste-site battles

By Sharon Kiley Mack, BDN Staff

PLYMOUTH, Maine — A final decree has been issued in U.S. District Court in Bangor, ending the decades-old financial battle over cleaning up a waste-oil-contaminated site in Plymouth known as the Hows Corner Superfund Site.

More than 20 years ago, contamination was found in 10 private wells on a ridge overlooking Plymouth Pond on the south side of town just off Sawyer Road.

The $14 million consent agreement settles a federal lawsuit against 81 businesses, municipalities, school districts, universities and colleges which disposed of waste oil between the 1960s and 1980s at the 17-acre Portland-Bangor Waste Oil Co. site, according to a memo issued by Pierce Atwood attorneys to the responsible parties.

The list of responsible parties includes Bangor, Brewer, Caribou, Farmington, Lincoln, Houlton, Machias, the Maine Department of Transportation, the University of Maine System, Baxter State Park, Husson College, Eastern Maine Community College, International Paper Co., Maine Potato Growers, Cianbro Corp., and numerous car dealerships, tire companies, garages and other businesses.

Payments to settle the Superfund suit range from $636,000 by Darling’s car dealerships to $534,725 by the city of Bangor to $28,545 by the Maine State Police.

According to the memo, the settlement was determined by assessing a penalty price per gallon for waste oil sent to the Hows Corner site. That was $215.44 a gallon.

The designated Superfund site covers 17 acres on Sawyer Road in Plymouth, according to the DEP. The waste oil, solvents used to clean machine and motor parts, and other chemicals were stored in eight aboveground storage tanks ranging in volume from 1,000 to 20,000 gallons, but mishandling caused chemicals and oil to spill on the ground, leaching into fractures in the bedrock and spreading throughout the area.

George West, now deceased, who operated Portland-Bangor Waste Oil Co., halted operation in 1980, according to the DEP, just before the implementation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which was aimed at better regulating the disposal of hazardous waste and the cleanup of facilities similar to West’s.

During its operation, the firm received and legally disposed of more than 235,000 gallons of waste oil and other liquids. Much of the waste was separated based on density, according to the DEP. The lighter oils were sold to greenhouses, paper companies and others as fuel, and heavier oils were spread on dirt roads for dust control.

The consent agreement also calls for 700 acres along Martin Stream in Plymouth Bog to be owned and managed by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife as a natural resources and recreation area.

The final $11.2 million phase calls for a groundwater hydraulic containment system to be built this fall to capture and filter the highly contaminated groundwater at the site.

The 81 entities that have been identified are unable to fund the expensive environmental cleanup on their own. To help fund environmental cleanups around the state, the Legislature in 2007 passed a bill implementing fees on oil, lubricants and oil changes that goes to the Finance Authority of Maine. The actual $11.2 million to fund the Hows Superfund project will be provided through bonds issued by FAME.

Among those involved in crafting the consent agreement are the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the Maine Attorney General’s Office.

Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

You may also like