A 70-acre site tucked back in the woods off Route 90 in Warren has been a thorn in the side of town officials, residents and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection for the better part of the past 20 years.
On the property, about 27,000 tons of carpet-like material snakes through the abandoned lot like small mountain ranges.
After a previous contract with a Massachusetts company — which trucked out much less material than anticipated — came to an end last year, the DEP is once again collecting proposals from bidders to remove however much material they can from the site.
Proposals are due Sept. 27, according to the request. Once a bidder is chosen by the state, the request stipulates that the anticipated contract will begin Nov. 1 and possibly run through 2021.
The DEP has about $300,000 to apply to the contract, according to DEP Director of Innovation and Assistance Bill Longfellow, who serves as the proposal coordinator for the Warren site.
Having endured countless proposals and years of cleanup roadblocks, the town of Warren is now just hopeful that any amount of material removed from the site will bring some sense of remediation to the decades-long saga.
“From the town’s perspective, I think everyone knows the money left in the DEP’s coffer is not enough to cover all of the removal,” Warren Town Manager Bill Lawrence said. “[Having] a few more tons removed from that site is better off than we currently are.”
Years of proposals and roadblocks
The mountains of carpet-like fiber arrived on the site around 1998, when the DEP allowed the owner of R.D Outfitters rifle range to bring in the materials from Auburn. Steamship Navigation, which owned the rifle range, claimed the material was going to be used as berms to stop bullets from going off the property.
But the berms were never formed, and not long after the material arrived, Lawrence said, communication with Steamship Navigation’s principal owner, Randy Dunican, went dark.
According to Bangor Daily News archives, the DEP has estimated the owner received about $1 million to have the fiber waste brought to the property. The DEP ultimately went to court to take control of the site after the owner said he did not have the money to complete the berm project. Through the court action, the DEP received about $400,000 from the owner to clean up the site.
While the DEP has control over the site, Steamship Navigation still owns the property, despite more than a decade of unpaid property taxes. Several years ago, Lawrence said the town hired a private investigator to track down Dunican, but that effort only turned up a number of addresses related to Dunican from across the country.
Year after year at annual town meetings, residents have rejected calls for the town acquire the property for the unpaid property taxes in fear that taking ownership would mean the town is financially responsible for the cleanup.
“They’re scared to death to be responsible for the rest of that cleanup, which could total over $1 million,” Lawrence said.
The site poses a fire risk because the materials are highly flammable and difficult to extinguish if a fire starts.
Since 2001, the DEP has been looking for solutions to remove the materials from the site. Proposed uses for the materials that have been floated but never followed through, include trucking some of the material to Thomaston to fill a quarry at the former Maine State Prison when the facility was being demolished. Or, grinding down the material and using it as fuel at the Dragon Products cement plant, also in Thomaston.
In 2013, the DEP entered a contract with Triumvirate Environmental, of Massachusetts to truck the material to a site in Pennsylvania where it would be recycled into composite lumber. But in 2014, a lack of power at the site added a hiccup to this plan, and in 2017 the contract expired with much less material being removed than was hoped, according to Longfellow.
‘No silver bullet’
What makes the site difficult to cleanup, Longfellow said, is the type of material and the “significant” amount of material on the site.
Longfellow said the DEP has been talking to town officials, working through as many ideas as possible for remediation of the site. The DEP is hopeful that the request-for-proposal process brings in various bidders that come up with new ideas for use of the material.
What further complicates the situation, from a recycling standpoint, is that the carpets are made of two different types of plastic. Longfellow said every recycler they’ve talked to said if the two fibers were separate they could be recycled, but together “it’s a mixed waste stream.”
Last year, the Penobscot Energy Recovery Company trucked about 100 tons of the materials to their site in Orrington to see if the materials could be burned and used for energy, which proved a successful experiment, Lawrence said.
This was a hopeful sign, Lawrence said, because it demonstrated that there is a place this material could go.
Longfellow did not know the number of proposals received since the state issued the request. After Sept. 27, the DEP will review the proposals and award the contract to the best-fitting bidder.
“There’s no silver bullet,” Longfellow said. “We realize it’s going to be a multi-step remediation.”
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