HOULTON, Maine — For years, town councilors have complained about the amount of money they have had to pay for cleaning up the waste-oil contamination at the Hows Corner Superfund site in Plymouth.
So they were happy on Monday evening when Town Manager Doug Hazlett told them that they would be getting money back — nearly $25,000.
Houlton is among the potentially responsible parties, or PRPs, who were assessed charges for the clean up of waste-oil contamination at the site in southern Penobscot County. The town has been issued bills totaling $43,405 since the cleanup started more than 20 years ago.
Some 250 PRPs allegedly disposed of thousands of gallons of used motor oil, degreasers and solvents at the Hows Corner site, where the late George West Jr. of Wells operated a waste oil storage and treatment facility from 1965 to 1980.
The contributors sent their waste to the site assuming it was being reused in an acceptable and environmentally safe manner, but the material was dumped on the ground, either accidentally or on purpose, and seeped through bedrock fractures and contaminated the groundwater. The site ultimately contaminated 10 home wells and affected more than 200 acres.
Under the federal Superfund statute, when the business that caused the pollution cannot fund the cleanup, contributors to the site are the next in line to bear responsibility for the contamination.
So the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency compiled a list of responsible parties and those on the list were billed for their share of the cleanup costs.
The town of Houlton reportedly sent 270 gallons of oil to the site.
By 2004, Houlton had already authorized more than $27,000 be paid out for its portion of the cleanup. That same year, however, the community was assessed another bill of $16,405.
Each time the town was assessed another bill, councilors grew more and more frustrated, because they were never told when their involvement in the Superfund cleanup payment process would end. On the advice of counsel, however, they always paid the bills.
A consent decree issued in U.S. District Court in Bangor in 2010, however, finally settled the federal lawsuit against the responsible parties for $14 million. That included $11.2 million for a groundwater hydraulic containment system to capture and filter contaminated groundwater at the site.
In addition, to help fund environmental cleanups around the state, the Legislature in 2007 passed a bill implementing fees on oil, lubricants and oil changes that go to the Finance Authority of Maine. The law created a process in which eligible PRPs could have the costs associated with pollution cleanup paid from the proceeds of bonds issued by the Finance Authority of Maine.
On Monday evening Hazlett said that a bond was sold and the proceeds given back to the town. Houlton received $24,746.
“We have no continuing liability,” Hazlett added. “Its over.”