THOMASTON, Maine — Town officials say they have again been kept in the dark on a plan to dispose of 27,000 tons of flammable fiber wastes from a former rifle range in neighboring Warren.
A letter from Thomaston Town Manager Valmore Blastow was sent Monday to Maine Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Patricia Aho expressing local concerns.
Blastow pointed out that the DEP did not consult Thomaston officials back in 2001 when the agency considered dumping fiber wastes in the quarry where the Maine State Prison had been located. That proposal was never followed through by the state.
“Therefore again, the town finds itself as it was in 2001, an uninformed party in this matter and wishes to be informed,” Blastow said.
The manager said he learned last month through a Bangor Daily News article that the waste material now may be shipped to Thomaston for use by the Dragon Products cement plant.
The DEP is planning to open bids on Sept. 18 from parties that have plans to reuse the scrap pieces of polyester and polypropylene carpetlike fiber. The material is considered hazardous because it is highly flammable and difficult to put out if ignited. The only specific proposal that has been made public involves grinding and cutting the material into pieces that can be used as an alternative fuel by the cement plant.
The manager’s letter cites the town’s longstanding support for Dragon Products but also raises questions about the project. The town supported and approved a $60 million tax increment financing district for Dragon in 2002 that allowed the plant to undergo an expansion and major modernization. The manager pointed out that the modernization helped the environment by cutting the cement maker’s consumption of oil by tens of thousands of gallons.
But the town is questioning the transportation of material through Thomaston and whether the material would be cut up and ground in Thomaston. The manager said that based on the amount of material and whether it is shipped in bulk or ground in Warren, 1,200 to 6,000 trailer truckloads of it would be driven through Thomaston.
“The town further recognizes the materials if ground in Thomaston as they are polyester would require an airtight grinding system,” the manager’s letter states.
Lee-Ann Upham, vice chairman of Thomaston’s Board of Selectmen, said Wednesday that the manager is watching out for the town.
“We are going to have material that is flammable, traveling on our roads. He’s covering all the bases,” Upham said.
Copies of the letter also were sent to Gov. Paul LePage, Dragon Products and the town of Warren.
Aho had not received the letter as of Wednesday afternoon, according to Jesse Logan, communications director for the department.
Logan said the commissioner certainly will respond to the Thomaston town manager’s letter but pointed out that the bids have not been received yet from parties interested in reusing the material. Until those bids are open, some questions cannot be answered.
Warren and the DEP have been trying for 14 years to clean up the 70-acre site that was the R.D. Outfitters rifle range. The facility’s owner had said he was bringing in the fiber material during the late 1990s to be used as berms to stop bullets from going off the property. But opponents questioned whether he simply was 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 range owners — Steamship Navigation, whose principals were Randy and Cathy Dunican — received $1 million to have the fiber wastes dumped on their property.
The piles are in excess of 25 feet tall in some places on the property off Route 90. While highly flammable, the material is stable, does not decompose, and does not generate leachate or odors, according to the DEP.
“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 last month. “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.”