June 19, 2018
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Howland begins tannery cleanup

The first extensive site-clearing work began this week at the former tannery building in Howland, but the main building will stay erect at least for another year, as town officials look for federal or state grant funds that will pay for the building's demolition. BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY NICK SAMBIDES JR.
By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff

HOWLAND, Maine – A town-based general contractor has begun testing contaminated soil for eventual removal as part of a plan to clean up the former Howland Tannery site for $600,000, Town Manager Jane Jones said Wednesday.

MO Harris Inc. of North Howland Road is removing debris and rough-grading the tannery site this week. Harris dug seven test pits and sent sludge and soil samples for testing last week in anticipation of removing from 750 to 1,500 tons of contaminated soil for storage at Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town, Jones said.

“We believe the amount of contaminated soil is closer to the lower number,” Jones said Wednesday. “We applied for [a permit to remove] up to 1,500 tons because we wanted to make sure we had the latitude we needed to clean the site up as completely as we could.”

Once home to the town’s largest employer, the tannery site is part of Penobscot River Restoration Trust’s 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 Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved late last month the restoration trust’s request to decommission and remove the Veazie and Great Works dams as well as decommission and bypass the Howland dam, with at least one electricity generator shipped to a dam in Medway.

FERC approval was a critical first step in the regulatory process for proposed projects that, by the time they are completed in 2013 or 2014, will reopen hundreds of miles of rivers and streams to Atlantic salmon and other migratory fish.

Notwithstanding any last-minute permitting problems or other hiccups, work on decommissioning and removing the Great Works dam should commence next summer, restoration trust officials have said.

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 contaminants would cost about $4 million, Jones has said.

As part of the land’s restoration, the Board of Selectmen has formed 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.

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

Once the contaminated soil has been removed, MO Harris will resurface the tannery plot. The town also plans to build a walking trail on the property and riverbank and install a new town boat landing. If all goes well, the resurfacing will occur in November or early next spring, Jones said.

Under the $600,000 portion of the project, the tannery buildings will remain standing. Jones and other town officials continue to search for federal or state funding to pay for the razing of those buildings.

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