Acting DEP commissioner pleased with progress at Washburn, Wallagrass cleanup sites

Posted Aug. 11, 2011, at 8:15 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 12, 2011, at 9:42 a.m.

WASHBURN, Maine — The acting commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection said Thursday she was pleased with the progress being made on two significant cleanup projects in Aroostook County.

Patricia Aho was in southern and central Aroostook on Wednesday and Thursday for a tour that took her to several businesses and to the environmental cleanup sites in Washburn and Wallagrass. On Wednesday, Aho reviewed a brownfield project in Washburn and cleanup efforts the 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 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 from the site.

There is an 86,630-square-foot defunct potato processing and cold storage facility at the site. Environmental site assessments revealed material containing asbestos 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.

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

“I am incredibly excited that the town of Washburn was able to work with NMDC to get the subgrant to help clean up the site,” Aho said Thursday during a stop in Houlton. “The work is ongoing, and it is being done in a timely manner, and I am pleased with the results. This project is expected to be complete in mid-September and we will be back here and we should see a beautiful grassy area that the town can redevelop.”

In Wallagrass, Aho visited the site of the May 31 gasoline spill.

The spill took place after a tractor-trailer truck belonging to the John T. Noble trucking company of Caribou overturned on Route 11. Investigators said 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 water contaminated by the spilled gasoline. DEP workers are continuing the cleanup effort and a website http://www.maine.gov/dep/rwm/wallagrass/ keeps residents updated on its progress.

Aho said more than 600 gallons of spilled gasoline has been recovered so far. Crews have drilled recovery and monitoring wells to aid in the effort. Not all of the gasoline spilled will be recovered as a substantial portion will evaporate into the air, dissolve into water or stick to rocks and soil.

“We do everything we can to prevent spills, but accidents happen,” said Aho.”We have the best responders working for the state who respond to more than 3,000 hazardous materials spills each year. They are doing the best they can to remediate the spill.”

Aho said she was not sure when the cleanup would be completed, which she said she realizes frustrates some people. The DEP will remain on the site for the foreseeable future, and Aho said she plans to return to Wallagrass next month for an informational meeting with the community.

Aho also met with staff at the Presque Isle DEP office and made stops at Smith & Wesson in Houlton, McCain Foods in Easton and the Maine Potato Board in Presque Isle before returning to Augusta.

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