HANCOCK, Maine — Now that the town owns a 150-acre former tannery property off Route 1, local officials are hoping to get federal funds to clean up pollution that accumulated at the site decades ago.
The town of Hancock has applied for $400,000 in federal brownfields remediation grant money from the U.S Environmental Protection Agency to help it clean up pollution at a defunct tannery off Route 1.
The property on Tannery Road was used as a leather tannery for about a decade, from the late 1950s to the late 1960s, according to a copy of the EPA grant application on file at the town office. After that, it fell into disuse and became derelict. The company that used to own and operate Hancock Ellsworth Tannery no longer exists.
The town took ownership of the site through foreclosure last fall after the prior owner failed to keep up with annual property tax payments to the town, according to First Selectman Gary Hunt. Hunt said last week that the town and area residents would benefit economically if the property, which is located near where routes 1 and 182 intersect and drains into Kilkenny Cove, gets cleaned up.
“We want to see something done with it. It’s an eyesore,” Hunt said. “We’re mostly concerned with cleaning up the pollution.”
The property, access to which is blocked by a gate and a fence, is not open to the public, according to Hunt.
According to a letter sent by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to EPA, neither the town nor the immediate past owners are responsible for cleaning up the site. The site is eligible for receiving federal brownfields remediation funds, state officials wrote in the letter.
The town sent its application for the environmental remediation funds to EPA on Dec. 18 and hopes to get an answer back this spring, Hunt said.
In the application, town officials indicate they have divided the property into three parcels, two of which require environmental remediation. The largest of the three, consisting of 134 acres, has not been affected by industrial waste. Town officials believe this parcel would be suitable to be developed into affordable housing, Hunt said.
The smallest parcel, at 3.6 acres, includes an abandoned 71,000-square-foot building where juveniles like to explore, according to the application. The building has a partially collapsed roof, asbestos, “hundreds” of old fluorescent light bulbs on the floor or dangling “precariously” from the roof, and heavy metals such as lead and chromium lying in open floor trenches, according to the application.
Graffiti has been painted on walls throughout the inside of the structure, which has trash and old building materials scattered across the floor, much of which is covered in moss. Many of the windows are broken with doors left open or missing, and several small trees are growing up out of openings in the floor.
“Chromium-impacted sludge and rotting hides from the 1960s remain within the building, and there are several water-filled pits located in unlit areas of the abandoned structure,” the application indicates.
Another parcel, nearly 14 acres in size, includes 250 feet of road frontage on Route 1. This parcel includes two former tannery treatment lagoons that contain “elevated levels of volatile organic compounds and semi-volatile organic compounds.” An underground storage tank and an above-ground storage tank, both of which contained petroleum products and are leaking, are on the parcel, as is an area where fuel oil was dumped and buried a few feet below ground.
“All identified contaminants in this parcel were detected below the surface at 2 to approximately 15 feet below grade,” town officials wrote in the application.
The contaminants are migrating with groundwater toward Kilkenny Stream, which drains into Kilkenny Cove and the tidal Skillings River on the opposite of Route 1.
“Kilkenny Cove is a 212-acre marine estuary where a significant tidal flat was historically used for productive shellfish harvesting,” Hancock officials indicated. “The cove is currently closed for shellfish harvesting due to contaminants released from the tannery and other [nearby] brownfields. In reality, however, people are frequently seen on the tidal flat harvesting shellfish despite the closure.”
Hunt said that the town is applying for $200,000 for each of the parcels — one with the building and another with the former treatment lagoons — for a total of $400,000. If the town gets the money, it would have to match each $200,000 grant with $40,000 the town would have to raise locally, for a total project estimate of $480,000.
Hunt said the town would not necessarily have to raise the matching $80,000 through property taxes. The town is allowed to raise the money through private partners, who could become minority owners of the land or, through subsequent additional payments to the town, could end up purchasing the property or parts of it outright.
The town is happy to leave any subsequent redevelopment of the tannery property to the private sector, Hunt said.
Two companies each have expressed an interest in chipping in the entire $80,000 in local matching funds in exchange for then purchasing the former tannery property if the grant fund comes through and the parcels are cleaned up.
One of them, Tracy’s Brothers Construction, indicated in a letter sent to Hancock officials last month that it would spend approximately $750,000 to renovate the building for use as its base of operations.
The other is Derek Thomas, the former owner who lost the property to the town last year through foreclosure. In a separate letter he sent to the town in December, Thomas, proprietor of Dig-It Equipment, indicated that the company would renovate the remediated building and use the property for its equipment rental business and to produce wood pellets for heating fuel. Such development would create approximately 30 jobs and help to preserve others in the area, Thomas wrote.
Both companies indicated they are amenable to setting some of the 150 acres aside to allow for affordable housing development and would consider establishing a conservation easement along Kilkenny Stream. In a separate letter to the town, Frenchman Bay Conservancy has expressed an interest in establishing a conservation easement along the stream.