EPA assesses Down East properties

Posted Jan. 21, 2011, at 7:36 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 7:20 a.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — Four Washington County properties have already gone through the complete U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields Program assessment, and more properties are in the pipeline.

The property assessments completed include Machias Cleaners and Laundry, the Antone Triangle property in Pembroke, 15 Sea St. in Eastport, and a former service station and repair shop on Main Street in Calais.

D. Todd Coffin of GEI Consultants told a gathering of members of the Machias Area Chamber of Commerce on Thursday that funding is available for assessment and, in the future, for remediation of polluted properties.

In mid-2009, the Washington County Council of Governments obtained a $400,000 Environmental Protection Agency grant to assess all brownfield sites in the county.

A brownfield is a property that contains a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant that hinders the reuse or redevelopment of the site. The EPA’s Brownfields Program helps states and communities assess, safely clean up and reuse brownfields for economic development projects.

GEI Consultants of Falmouth was hired by WCCOG to conduct the assessments, and Coffin expressed his concerns that there will be two hands in one pocket of federal money as the new state administration focuses on alternative funding sources for its own projects.

“We may be competing for the same resources,” Coffin said. “On the one hand, I am optimistic because of possible streamlining of environmental resources. At the same time, I worry about the downsizing of state government and how that will affect environmental resources.”

Coffin said, “It will be a delicate balance.”

In conducting the federally funded assessments in Washington County, Coffin said at least a half-dozen properties have been or are being assessed. Each was identified through conversations with community leaders and business owners, one-on-one networking with elders and public outreach.

Some properties are owned by municipalities; others are privately owned.

There is a formal ranking process for each potential property, he said. “Washington County businesses have been very responsive,” he said.

Coffin outlined the four parcels where assessments have been completed and their potential:

ä Bridges property, Main Street, Calais: formerly a service station. “This is an incredible piece of property,” Coffin said. It borders the St. Croix River and contains three underground storage tanks. Monitoring wells, soil and soil gas tests confirmed low levels of petroleum contaminants. But, Coffin said, “it is not squeaky clean but not so contaminated that we’d have to remove tons and tons of soil.”

ä Antone’s Triangle, Route 1, Pembroke: formerly a convenience store and filling station. Coffin said a double-section underground tank has been removed and there are low levels of soil contamination. “These environmental risks are easily remedied,” Coffin said. “The building is in great shape, has a great location and high visibility.”

ä Building at 15 Sea St., Eastport: a former sardine factory, currently under a plan to become a retail center and apartment complex. Coffin said the assessment found high levels of metals and low levels of petroleum. “You’d have to actually eat a substantial amount of the soil for it to affect you,” Coffin said. “When the economy turns, the developers are ready to go. It is quite a project, quite a property.”

ä Machias Cleaners and Laundry, Colonial Way, Machias: formerly a dry cleaning establishment. Coffin said the building dates from the 1800s and contains various solvents in the flooring and soil. Water supplies were not affected, he said. Coffin said GEI and WCCOG are working with the town of Machias on grant opportu-nities to purchase the building and redevelop the land to become more compatible with the neighboring, historic Burnham Tavern. “This could become valuable green space,” Coffin said. “There are a lot of potential uses.”

Coffin said he also has met with the town of Harrington about seeking a Community Development Block Grant to transform a former Texaco gasoline station into a community center.

He also is working with the city of Eastport regarding a former aquaculture facility on the waterfront; the town of Baring regarding a former service station; and Jonesboro on a riverfront parcel that contains a crumbling former service station.

“We are on the edge of assessing some very interesting sites,” Coffin said.

For more information, visit www.wccogbrownfields.com

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