December 10, 2018
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Controversial metal recycling company eyeing Searsport

SEARSPORT, Maine — A metal recycling company that has faced controversy and major fines from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its operation in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is applying for a permit to open a junkyard at the Mack Point industrial zone.

At Tuesday night’s regular meeting, the Board of Selectmen decided to table Grimmel Industries LLC’s application for the time being, according to Searsport Town Manager James Gillway. The Searsport planning board voted to do a site plan review of the project as soon as members receive an application from the Topsham-based company.

“We go by the performance standards,” Bruce Probert, chairman of the Searsport planning board, said Wednesday. “We can’t say, ‘You got blacklisted in Portsmouth and we don’t want you here.’ We can ask them questions. … At this point, you have to judge them on the application. But we’d better not be dozing. We’d better be wide awake and have our eyes open.”

BDN efforts to speak with a Grimmel company official were unsuccessful Wednesday.

Grimmel Industries has operated a metal scrap yard since 2002 at the Port of New Hampshire. Earlier this year, the board of directors of the Market Street Terminal decided not to extend the contract with the company, which has until Dec. 31 to leave the facility, according to Chief Harbor Master Tracy Shattuck.

“The board made a business decision,” Shattuck said by telephone. “That’s their bailiwick. That was their choice.”

Shattuck said Grimmel has used the facility to gather together its scrap metal before exporting the internationally brokered commodity by ship. But its time in New Hampshire was marred by a 2011 citation from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which sought $532,000 in penalties for discharging polluted stormwater into the Piscataqua River.

“The EPA order requires Grimmel to terminate its unpermitted discharge, begin sampling its stormwater discharges and develop and implement a plan to reduce contaminant levels in its stormwater discharge,” stated an April 2011 media release from the EPA.

According to the Conservation Law Foundation, the problems did not end with the fine from the EPA.

In addition to water pollution, air pollution from the Grimmel scrap-metal facility has caused great concern among nearby residents, who have complained about fugitive dust from the site,” Jeff Barnum, the foundation’s Great Bay-Piscataqua waterkeeper, wrote in May on his organization’s blog.

Gillway, Searsport town manager, said if the application is accepted, Grimmel would lease a 2.25 acre parcel at Mack Point.

“It will be right in the heart of the industrial area, 525 feet away from the shoreline and 3,000 feet away from Route 1,” he said. “I’ve been to Portsmouth and seen that whole area. It’s extremely different than what we have. On the other hand, going through site plan review is probably the best way to figure out if it is a good fit.”

But in Searsport, where memories of the recent, divisive fight over a proposed liquid propane tank and terminal project are still fresh, one resident contacted Wednesday said he already has a pretty good idea his town is not a good fit for this type of business.

Steve Tanguay, co-owner of Searsport Shores Campground and member of the Head of the Bay Business Alliance, said the region already struggles with water quality problems, decades after the now-closed HoltraChem factory in Orrington first pumped toxic mercury waste into the lower Penobscot River.

“This could be another nail in the coffin for the town,” Tanguay said of Grimmel Industries. “We don’t know a lot about this company. This company might be bad news. We don’t need that right now.”

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