PATTEN, Maine — A building that Patten residents say has been in the community for close to a century fell to the ground Monday morning as the state Department of Environmental Protection embarked on a project to clean up the contaminated site of a now-defunct business.
Demolition crews arrived at the former Patten General Store and gas station around 10 a.m., and heavy equipment began wrecking the building a short time later.
The DEP and the federal Environmental Protection Agency are overseeing the demolition of the approximately 75-year-old business to facilitate the removal of three recently discovered underground petroleum storage tanks and additional contaminated soil discovered during an excavation two months ago.
This four-day project is using economic stimulus money provided by the American Recovery and Revitalization Act and state cleanup funds. The town of Patten took ownership of the former Patten General Store and gas station over unpaid taxes. The removal of the three additional underground storage tanks and the approximately 700 tons of petroleum-contaminated soil will complete the goal of making the property viable for redevelopment.
David McCaskill, the DEP senior environmental engineer overseeing the project, said the building was torn down completely by 1:30 p.m. Trucks will arrive tomorrow to haul the debris away to the Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town.
“In between the trucks coming and going, we are going to remove the tanks and the soil,” he said. “This is phase two of the project. We were in there two months ago removing some tanks and soil, and that is when we discovered these additional tanks. We had to take down the building to get to the tanks.
“It was not a total surprise that there were more tanks and contaminated soil at a location with a long history as a gas station,” he said. “Longtime residents recalled that there were tanks left in place and the existing store was built over them.”
The underground tanks at the former store and gas station are located less than 600 feet from the town’s drinking water supply. To further leverage the federal stimulus funds used for the drinking water protection project, the DEP is using $100,000 from the Maine Groundwater Oil Clean-Up Fund to replace substandard aboveground home heating oil tanks at homes within the wellhead protection zone. The protection zone is the area that contributes recharge water to Patten’s drinking water well. The first of an estimated 25 replacements took place two weeks ago.
The project is expected to cost approximately $250,000.
McCaskill said gasoline spills from leaking underground storage tanks and piping have contaminated hundreds of private drinking water supplies across Maine, including a number of public wells. Spills from home heating oil tanks also contaminate wells.
“The DEP responds to an average of one spill a day from residential aboveground home heating oil tanks,” McCaskill said. “Spills from corroded tanks, leaking oil lines and overfills cost the state between $1 [million] and $2 million a year.”
The Patten project is one of four such projects taking place in Maine this summer. The others are the former Victor’s Irving Station in Grand Isle, the Smithfield General Store and a former gas station in Trenton.
On Monday afternoon, a number of Patten residents and some visitors were at the site of the former store, at the corner of Main and Founders streets. One of them was 85-year-old Floyd McCullum, who was born in Patten and now lives in Florida. He was in the area visiting family when he heard that the old store was being demolished.
“I was here so many times as a kid,” he said as he watched a backhoe tear into the structure, sending dust flying onto nearby vehicles. “My brother and I shared a bicycle, and my mom would tell us to go to the store to get milk or bread, and she’d give us a bit extra for candy. We had many a fight over who’d get to ride that bike to the store and claim that candy.”
McCullum said it was “kind of a shame” to see the building go.
“It is like watching a memory disappear,” he said Monday.