The town of Orrington has been waiting more than a decade to develop a new industrial park along the Penobscot River on land where a succession of companies produced paper-making chemicals for more than three decades.
Now that the former HoltraChem manufacturing facility has been demolished and the site’s cleanup is entering its final phase, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection has told the town it can finally start developing the 163-acre parcel it owns.
Since Orrington received the go-ahead in March 2018, it’s taken some steps toward developing the former industrial property into the Riverfront Industrial Park, which could host offices, manufacturing businesses, greenhouses or other enterprises.
Recent soil samples have shown the acreage the town wants to develop has no contamination from the former chemical plant, said Chris Swain, an environmental specialist with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection who has overseen the site’s cleanup.
“There is nothing to prevent development,” he said. “The only restriction we’ve put on the site is that there not be wells drilled on it.”
But that won’t be a hurdle to development since municipal water can be brought onto the property.
In addition to a low tax rate for the region, the town is touting the property’s railroad access, water access on the Penobscot River, and the potential for locally produced power and steam from the adjacent Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. incinerator that produces electricity from household waste.
The town has not received expressions of interest from businesses yet, but “we are wide open to any proposals — heavy industrial, light industrial, office building, manufacturing,” said James Stoneton, chairman of the Selectmen’s Economic Advisory Committee. “We are wide open to anything.”
Filling up a business park will be difficult, said Michael Aube, who retired last year after serving 20 years as president of Eastern Maine Development Corporation.
“My guess is that the business/industrial parks in Greater Bangor are half full or half empty, however you want to put it,” he said.
Aube suggested town leaders figure out the kind of firms they want to attract and pursue boutique or niche businesses.
“Taxes have an impact, but the decision on where a business decides to locate is not based solely on the tax rate,” he said. “There have to be the right amenities for that particular business. It comes down to why someone should invest here rather than somewhere else.”
Orrington also has a 130-acre parcel off Brewer Lake Road it intended to develop as a business park in 2011 adjacent to a business park in Brewer. But the town set aside those plans to focus on the riverfront property, said Stoneton, who has served on the economic advisory committee for more than a decade.
As Orrington has pursued its new industrial park on the river, it became a senior capstone project this semester for a group of University of Maine engineering students.
At a selectmen’s meeting last month, the students — Brody Campbell, James Costigan, Morgan Cram, Andrew Kurmin and Sean Mackintosh — gave town officials an idea of what might be needed to develop the property.
Using information gathered last year, the students created a presentation showing where a two-way road or a loop road might go to access the property off Route 15. The presentation also mapped out a system for bringing water onto the site, a stormwater drainage system, and where fire hydrants would be needed. The students detailed how the road could be built to last 50 years.
They estimated the cost to prepare the property for businesses would be between $2.5 million and $11.4 million, not including the installation of power. The cost would depend primarily on the lifespan of the road the town installed, the students told selectmen.
The students also did not estimate the cost of either installing septic systems or extending the existing sewer line to the site.
Selectmen, who praised the students’ work, consider the plan a jumping-off point but not a blueprint for what they will do. That won’t be decided until later this year after an engineering firm determines where on the property wetlands are located and future lots may be located.
Jim Ring, a retired city engineer for Bangor and an Orrington resident, estimated the students’ work would have cost the town between $100,000 and $200,000 if they paid an engineering firm for it.
The town had a preliminary design of a future business park done in 2009 that looked similar to the students’ loop-road design. The implementation of that plan was delayed by legal wrangling between Mallinckrodt Inc., the last remaining owner of HoltraChem, and the DEP over a site cleanup plan.
Those legal actions were unrelated to the still pending lawsuit seeking to have Mallinckrodt Inc. clean up mercury contamination in the Penobscot River.
HoltraChem produced 23,000 pounds of toxic mercury waste each year while making chemicals for paper making and other industries. The plant shut down in 2000, and the town took the entire 235-acre factory site in 2006 through tax delinquency. But in early 2014, Mallinckrodt paid Orrington $175,000 for the 63 acres the DEP said were contaminated.
Swain said that while much of the remediation on site is done, one section of the five outlined for cleanup in 2014 needs to be completed — the actual plant area and one landfill.
He estimated it would be another two years before the remaining work is completed. However, he said, that cleanup won’t interfere with the town’s industrial park plans.