July 20, 2018
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Searsport company’s efforts to test mudflats for contaminants praised

Brian Feulner | BDN
Brian Feulner | BDN
A federal agency investigated claims there is significant pollution in an area of the harbor adjacent to the GAC chemical factory.
By Abigail Curtis, BDN Staff

SEARSPORT, Maine — A local environmental group is lauding a decision by GAC Chemical Corp. officials to investigate the pH level of mudflats adjacent to the chemical plant.

“We’ve been asking since 1998,” Ron Huber, executive director of the Friends of Penobscot Bay, said Thursday about the site, which he believes is contaminated with sulfuric acid and heavy metals. “It’s about time.”

David Colter, president and CEO of GAC Chemical, said his company has filed an application with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to participate in the state’s Voluntary Response Action Program. The chemical company has hired Brewer-based environmental consulting firm CES Inc. to test the mudflats and expects to see the results of that testing within a week or so, Colter said.

“We need to review the investigative work that was done by CES and then decide our course of action,” Colter said Thursday. “We’d like to see all the data and the test results to determine next steps.”

The mudflats in question are just east of the Sears Island Causeway, adjacent to the century-old chemical plant. Earlier this year, Huber hired an oceanographer from St. Joseph’s College in Standish to do pH analyses of sediment samples collected at Kidder Point. Mark Green said the acidification he found on site was the worst he had seen in Maine.

“I was a little stunned, actually,” Green told the BDN in July. “You wouldn’t find clams there. They wouldn’t survive. They would dissolve.”

Karl Wilkins of the Maine DEP confirmed Friday that the agency has received a Voluntary Response Action Program application from GAC Chemical. That program was established in 1993 by the Maine Legislature to allow applicants to voluntarily investigate and clean up properties to the department’s satisfaction. In exchange, applicants get protection from enforcement actions. The program is intended to encourage the cleanup and redevelopment of contaminated properties in Maine.

“The information submitted with the application was information that was already known about the site and GAC is currently conducting further assessment of the site and possibilities for their future use. We are waiting for the results of this assessment,” Wilkins said in an email.

The sulfuric acid plant on the shore near the mudflats has not been operated in 30 years or so, he said.

Colter said studies were done in the 1980s and 1990s to document any problems in the mudflats. He said the investigation should show what, if anything, has changed since then.

“The recommendations from the mid-’90s were to leave it alone and let nature run its course,” he said.

GAC Chemical works with the Maine DEP to test the surface water and groundwater at the site twice per year, but those surveys do not look at possible acidification.

On Friday, the Searsport Shellfish Committee wrote the Maine DEP to ask to be recognized as an interested party regarding the voluntary remediation at Kidder Point.

“Our members would like to assist with cleanup or mitigation projects that would restore the health of the intertidal flats that lie below the abandoned sulfuric acid plant and tank on Kidder Point,” the committee wrote. “We encourage you to take the lead in bringing business and the public together to find a solution for this decades-old problem.”

Huber said he hopes the investigation will be “super transparent.”

“They’re willing to admit they have a problem — now it’s time to deal with the problem,” he said. “It’s an old, foul site.”

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