WARREN, Maine — Town officials hope they are nearing a solution to a 13-year conundrum involving a former rifle range that was turned into a fire-hazard waste site.
Town officials met two weeks ago with representatives of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and Maine attorney general’s office to discuss two possible options to clean up the site, which has an estimated 200,000 cubic yards of flammable fiber material remaining uncovered on the property.
Town Manager Grant Watmough said the estimated cost of trucking the waste material to an acceptable landfill in Augusta is $1.2 million. The DEP has a little more than $400,000 set aside for the work.
The second option is to bury the material at the site, which is located on Route 90, the town manager said. The town asked for a cost estimate on that option and the DEP expects to present that figure at another meeting which will be held in the next few weeks, he said.
The property is owned by Steamship Navigation Co. which purchased the rifle range in the 1990s. The company had the polyester material trucked to the site from Gates Formed Fibre of Auburn with the stated intent of using it to create berms as part of the rifle range. Steamship was paid by Gates to take the material. But the site was abandoned by Steamship and the mounds of material were left on the land. The DEP and the Fire Department both have voiced concerns that the wastes present a significant fire hazard.
For the past 13 years, the town has held special town meetings in which voters have refused, at the advice of the town’s attorney, to foreclose on the 71 acres for nonpayment of property taxes.
The foreclosure question is expected to be voted on again in November and Watmough said Town Attorney Paul Gibbons again is recommending not to foreclose on the property because of potential liabilities connected to the land, which would become town-owned property.
At the same time, the town has been amenable to talking with people about possible future use of the property if it can be cleaned up.
The Board of Selectmen met Tuesday night in a closed-door meeting with its attorney to discuss the property. The board also was scheduled to meet Wednesday evening with Michael Mank of Hope, who Watmough said is interested in restarting a gun range on the property. But the town manager said that meeting was postponed to a later date.
The property also has been part of a decade-long legal battle among the DEP, Steamship and Camden National Bank. The bank sought foreclosure on the company’s assets and the company in turn sued the bank and won a judgment of $1.5 million, which was upheld in 2006 by the Maine supreme court. The bank, however, was able to deduct more than $850,000 owed to it for outstanding loans. The DEP filed motions to recover some of that money for cleanup efforts.