WARREN, Maine — The town has grappled for the past 13 years with how to deal with 30,000 tons of polyester scraps dumped on a Route 90 property, but town officials are now optimistic about potential solutions.
Warren selectmen met Wednesday night with top officials from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the manager of the Dragon Products cement plant, and the director of the Midcoast Waste Corporation about ways to clean up the wastes that have had town officials in fear of a potentially catastrophic fire hazard.
Selectman Ed LaFlamme said after the meeting he was very pleased with the progress made at the meeting and the improved chances that the problem will be solved.
The materials were dumped on the site of the former rifle range owned by Steamship Navigation. The company had said it was accepting the wastes from Gates Formed Fibre of Auburn to build berms around the rifle range, but critics argued at the time that Steamship had simply become a waste disposal site.
Steamship later abandoned the property. The DEP, town fire department, town officials and neighbors since have voiced concerns about the potential fire hazard. Town Attorney Paul Gibbons reiterated that fear at the Wednesday night meeting.
“We have a threat that could take down the whole town,” he said.
The concern is that the material would melt if it caught fire and water would be of no use in extinguishing the blaze in the 270,000 cubic yards of material, he said. He said foam would need to be used to try to contain any fire.
Gibbons said that a solution has been difficult to find in the past because there was no money to pay for a clean-up. About a year-and-a-half ago, however, the DEP was able to collect $410,000 from the former owner after a many-year court battle.
Steamship remains the owner although it has not paid property taxes in more than a decade. The town has refused to foreclose on the property for nonpayment of taxes because of concern about the town becoming the property owner and being liable for any damages caused by the wastes on the site, Gibbons said.
Several options were brought up at the meeting. One was by Dragon Products to use the material as a supplemental fuel supply for its cement plant in neighboring Thomaston. Plant manager Ray DeGrass said the company has been interested in the material for a few years although a feasibility study would need to be done.
“We have a very high interest in it,” DeGrass said.
The material would need to be shredded, he said, into pieces no larger than 3 inches by 3 inches. The cement plant would not be able to store all the material on site but would consume the polyester scraps as needed. He said the shredding could be done on the Route 90 site and then transported to the cement plant.
He estimated that at the company’s current production level, the materials would be fully used in three years. He said the time would be less if production increases at the cement plant.
The Mid Coast Solid Waste Corporation based in Rockport also is interested in the material. The corporation operates the transfer station that serves Camden, Rockport, Lincolnville and Hope and operates a quarry in Rockport where demolition debris is dumped.
The corporation would like the material to help speed up filling of the quarry as sought by the DEP for environmental reasons.
Gibbons, who also represents the waste corporation, said the organization is in a Mexican standoff with the state over the quarry and asked for the DEP’s help.
The material located in Warren would fill one-third of the remaining capacity of the quarry, according to waste corporation Director Jim Guerra.
John Leslie of New England Organics said the cost that the company has estimated to cover the polyester scraps to prevent a fire hazard is $750,000.
Selectman Dan Davey said after the meeting that there also are some people in Thomaston interested in acquiring the property and covering the material to create berms so the land can be reused as a rifle range.
One resident suggested the town contact the Maine National Guard to see if it could do the work and then could use the range.
State Sen. Christopher Rector, R-Thomaston, and Rep. Wes Richardon, R-Warren, also were in attendance Wednesday night.
Maine Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Patricia Aho said she would come back to the town in a couple months with recommended solutions and urged residents to contact the DEP with their suggestions.