WARREN, Maine — Fourteen years after 27,000 tons of flammable fiber wastes were dumped on a former rifle range off Route 90, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection hopes it has come up with a long-awaited solution.
The DEP is soliciting bids for parties that would like to convert the carpet-like fiber into an alternative fuel for an industrial user or have some other creative reuse plan.
“I applaud the department for seeking proposals that promote a sustainable economy and clean up the environment,” said Gov. Paul LePage in a news release issued this week. “This is an opportunity to use what was once considered waste and turn it into an alternative fuel, thus reducing impacts to our environment and creating new, innovative jobs. Environmental stewardship and job creation can be done together.”
The piles — in excess of 25 feet in places — are located a few hundred yards off busy Route 90.
The 70-acre site had been the home of the former R.D. Outfitters rifle range. The owner of that facility had said he was bringing in the material during the late 1990s to be used as berms to stop bullets from going off the property.
But opponents questioned whether he was simply using the property as an unlicensed dump to make money by accepting material from the former Gates Formed Fibre of Auburn.
The DEP estimated the owners — Steamship Navigation, whose principals were Randy and Cathy Dunican — received $1 million to have the fiber wastes dumped on their property.
The state ultimately took over the responsibility when Steamship said it had no money to complete the berm project, which would have consisted of covering the fiber with dirt. The DEP had to go to court to take control of the site. The DEP received $410,000 from the former owner in the court action to assist in the clean-up.
The town of Warren has been working for the past 14 years to get the material covered or removed, expressing concern over a potential fire. The town has declined for more than the past decade to foreclose on the property even though the owner has not paid property taxes. The town has not foreclosed out of concern over the liability of owning all the materials.
Warren Selectman Ed LaFlamme said he was thrilled to see the clean-up moving ahead after 14 years.
“This has certainly been a concern of the community. It’s an environmental hazard. That material is the equivalent of millions of tires being stored on the property,” LaFlamme said.
In 2001, the DEP had proposed taking 100,000 cubic yards of the scrap polyester fiber material to fill a quarry at Maine State Prison once the prison was demolished. The prison was demolished but the state did not move forward with that plan because of concerns from Thomaston residents. The waste, polyester and polypropylene carpet-like fiber is stable, does not decompose and it does not generate leachate or odors, according to the DEP.
Parker said 10 potential bidders attended a pre-bid meeting on Wednesday to tour the site and consider ways the material could be used.
One proposal that is considered a leading plan is to have the material grinded and then used for a fuel for the Dragon Products cement plant that is located in neighboring Thomaston. At last year’s meeting with DEP, the Dragon Products plant manager estimated the material could provide enough fuel to run the plant for up to three years.
One uncertainty is whether the material would be grinded at the Route 90 site and then shipped as fuel or taken somewhere else to be grinded.
Last year, the Mid Coast Solid Waste Corporation based in Rockport also expressed interest 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 wants the material to help speed up filling of the quarry as sought by the DEP for environmental reasons.
“DEP remains steadfast in its commitment to cleaning up environmental and public health risks, and knew we had to do something to remove the hazardous material. But putting the fiber in a landfill is not an option,” said Maine DEP commissioner Patricia Aho in the news release issued this week. “Maine leads the country in the materials management of our waste stream and finding new uses for materials that used to be simply disposed is a top priority of mine. This request for proposal is an opportunity to clean up the environment and allow for creative, beneficial uses of our waste.”
Bids are due Sept. 18.