ORRINGTON, Maine — Some residents are upset that selectmen voted unanimously last week to support a quicker rather than extensive cleanup of the former HoltraChem site, leaving tons of contaminated sludge. Those residents are beginning a petition drive to reverse the board’s decision.
“A number of Orrington residents feel like their voice wasn’t heard,” Ryan Tipping-Spitz, Maine People’s Alliance environmental organizer, said Monday.
A successful petition drive would send a message to the Maine Board of Environmental Protection, which has the final say in the scope of the cleanup, that the selectmen’s vote was not representative of what residents want, he said.
Orrington Town Manager Paul White said Monday morning that a petition drive would change little.
“Ultimately, that decision is going to lie with the Board of Environmental Protection,” he said. “I don’t believe it would [make any difference], but I’m not an attorney.”
While testifying before the BEP on Feb. 4, the last day of hearings, White said town leaders want to avoid further delays.
“It seems to be plainly understood by everyone involved in this matter that if the commissioner’s order is imposed on Mallinckrodt, there will be further litigation … that would result in a further delay of three to five years with nothing being done,” White told the panel.
For that reason, the town is supporting a “source removal alternative” proposed by St. Louis-based Mallinckrodt, which operated a chemical factory at the site until 2000. That option would take out 73,200 tons of contaminated soils from the main polluter — Landfill 1 — and other contaminated areas, recap Landfill 2 and leave the other three landfills on-site untouched.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection would like Mallinckrodt to remove 360,000 tons of contaminated soils from the five outdated landfills at the site.
Mallinckrodt’s “source removal alternative” proposal was created by Woodard & Curran of Portland, and “only surfaced after the commission ordered the dig-and-haul remedy,” White said.
Richard Judd, who resides just downriver from the site, said, “The selectmen are obviously hoping that if they give in to Mallinckrodt, the company will finally stop stalling and do something to the site, but they’re being incredibly shortsighted. If we don’t fight for a full cleanup, residents of Orrington will be dealing with these toxic chemicals forever.”
Residents and MPA members testified during a local hearing hosted by BEP at Center Drive School on Jan. 28.
Resident Margaret Parker, who was among those who spoke at the hearing in favor of complete removal of all contaminants, said Monday that town leaders don’t know what residents truly think because they have never been asked.
“They haven’t been canvassed,” she said. “We have not had a vote or been provided any written materials. We really don’t know” what others in town think about the cleanup plans.
The town held a special selectmen’s meeting on Jan. 29, the day after the BEP hearing, to hear from Mallinckrodt and continued the meeting on Feb. 3 to hear from the DEP.
At the second meeting, selectmen voted 5-0 to “support the plan presented on Friday by Woodard & Curran, which appears to have the least amount of risk to public health and [the] environment,” White said. They also directed him to make a presentation to the BEP supporting Mallinckrodt’s plan, he said.
Petitioners would need to collect signatures from 171 registered voters, or 10 percent of those who cast ballots in the last gubernatorial race, to get a veto referendum placed on the next ballot, town clerk Susan Carson said.