HOPE, Maine — Hope selectmen are considering their options for a 12-acre parcel that has been the site of one of the worst environmental pollution cases in the state.
The former Union Chemical plant property on Route 17 has been in court-ordered receivership for nearly 30 years. Since that time, up to $20 million has been spent trying to clean the soils and groundwater on the property.
Now that the cleanup efforts are completed, the town is trying to determine whether it wants to acquire the land.
“It’s a very sticky situation,” said Hope Administrator Jonathan Duke.
He said many residents want the town to put the property on the tax rolls but town officials want to be cautious to assure that they will not assume any liability later for environmental problems that may still exist.
“Everyone says the town will not be liable, even if we take it back and sell,” Duke said.
Selectmen met March 13 with the town attorney to review covenants that would need to be included on the property, Duke said. The town still has some questions it wants answered.
“We want to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s and check four times,” he said.
One possible process, Duke said, is for the town to appoint a committee of residents to come up with recommendations for what should be done with the property if Hope takes ownership. He said ideally a decision would be made by residents by a referendum at the November election. He said because it is a presidential year, putting the question to residents in November would attract the greatest number of voters.
Possible town uses that have been raised in the past for the property if the town took ownership would be a town forest, park or cemetery.
Rebecca Hewett, the project manager for the Union Chemical site with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, said no additional cleanup is expected. She said there are no new technologies available, at least cost-effective ones, to warrant further work on the site.
But the EPA and DEP continue to monitor the property using test wells. The frequency of the testing is becoming less, Hewett said, and is now every other year.
The state does not want to own the property, she said. Back when the site was placed in receivership, she said the federal Environmental Protection Agency had no policy on how to handle issues when municipalities took ownership of contaminated properties. In order to protect the town, the government went to the court and got a court-order to place it in receivership with the commissioner of the DEP as the holder of the property.
Union Chemical operated at the site from 1967 until the state shut it down in 1984. The company handled paint stripper and petrochemical-based solvents.
At the time of the closure, there were 2,000 drums and 30 storage tanks of hazardous wastes on the site. The soils and groundwater were found to have been contaminated from improper handling of drums, spills and use of the septic system as part of the waste process.