DEP commissioner to visit cleanup sites in Washburn, Wallagrass

Posted Aug. 03, 2011, at 6:41 p.m.

WASHBURN, Maine — Patricia Aho, acting commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, will be in Aroostook County for a two-day tour that will take her to several businesses and to two significant environmental cleanup sites.

Samantha Depoy-Warren, spokesperson for the DEP, said on Tuesday that the tour will take place Aug. 10 and 11. Aho will be visiting The County to meet with staff at the Presque Isle DEP office, with stops at Smith & Wesson in Houlton, McCain Foods in Easton and the Maine Potato Board in Presque Isle.

One major reason for Aho’s visit, according to Depoy-Warren, is for her to review a brownfield project in Washburn and cleanup efforts DEP is overseeing in Wallagrass where 5,000 gallons of gas were spilled in a tractor-trailer truck accident in May.

The town of Washburn, working with the DEP, Northern Maine Development Commission and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, recently began a brownfield revitalization project at the former McCain cooler plant on Gardner Creek Road. The community was awarded a $200,000 Brownfield Cleanup subgrant by the Northern Maine Development Commission in May to remove asbestos and other hazardous materials at the site.

Depoy-Warren said there is an 86,630-square-foot potato processing and cold storage facility at the site. Environmental site assessments revealed asbestos containing material in the potato production facility, potato waste screening building, starch plant, sprinkler building, scale house and well house. The roof of the starch plant has partially collapsed, which the spokesperson said represents both a safety risk and a potential exposure pathway for asbestos containing material.

The cleanup project in Washburn began last month. The town eventually hopes to redevelop the site and is applying for grants to that end.

The acting commissioner also will visit the site of a significant gasoline spill in Wallagrass.

The spill took place on May 31 after a tractor-trailer truck belonging to the John T. Noble trucking company of Caribou overturned on Route 11. Investigators said that a medical problem led the truck’s driver, Joe Nichols, to lose control of the vehicle after it drifted onto the soft shoulder of the roadway and became unstable.

The truck was hauling 8,000 gallons of gasoline for Daigle Oil Co. of Fort Kent at the time of the crash. An estimated 5,000 gallons spilled and seeped into the ground when a tank was breached.

The DEP is working with private contractors to pull gasoline from the ground and to collect and treat any gasoline-contaminated water. DEP workers are continuing the cleanup effort and a website http://www.maine.gov/dep/rwm/wallagrass/ keeps residents updated on the results.

Aho also will tour Houlton Water Co. before returning to Augusta on Aug. 11.

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