WARREN, Maine ― For two decades, mountains of plastic carpeting have sat useless on an abandoned rifle range on Route 90. Yet just one town over in Thomaston, the Dragon Cement plant has been burning the same exact type of material for fuel since 2015.
Past proposals to have Dragon burn the material never panned out, and a previous contract the Maine Department of Environmental Protection had with a company to remove the material from the site came to an end in 2017 with much less carpet being removed than expected.
But next month — in partnership with Farley and Sons Inc., which will remove and transport potential fuel from the carpet dump — Dragon officials anticipate they will begin burning material from the Warren site.
“The material is a very good, clean-burning fuel,” Dragon environmental compliance manager Michael Martunas said. “I am hopeful within the next couple of weeks we’ll be able to start taking these materials.”
Last year, after a renewed request for proposals on the cleanup of the Warren site, the DEP entered a contract with Farley and Sons to remove as much material as possible from the site, with Dragon being the recipient of the material.
There are approximately 27,000 tons of carpet sitting on the site, which is located down a dirt road off Route 90. The carpet is made from two different types of plastic, which has made it difficult for the DEP to find a company that was able to recycle it.
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 a company in Auburn.
Steamship Navigation, which owned the rifle range, claimed at the time that the material was going to be used as berms to stop bullets from going off the property.
But the berm project never came to be. Shortly after the materials arrived, town officials said attempted communications with the property owner went unanswered. Despite years of unpaid property taxes, Warren residents have rejected numerous calls at annual town meetings for the town to take ownership of the property out of fear they will be financially responsible for the cleanup.
The DEP gained control of the site through a court order, and since 2001 department officials have been looking for solutions to remove the materials. The last attempt to remove the materials came to an end in 2017, when a contract with a Massachusetts company terminated with much less material being removed from the site than anticipated.
The DEP has about $300,000 left for the cleanup project, which will only cover the removal of about half of the material, according to Tom Farley, who owns Farley and Sons.
Dragon’s limited storage capacity means Farley and Sons will only be able to remove a small amount of material from the site per month. It would take about five years for all 27,000 tons to be removed, Farley said.
Since the DEP only has funding for about half of the material, a partial cleanup could take about two-and-a-half years.
After gaining approval in March to begin burning the material from Warren, Dragon had hoped to begin receiving the material earlier this month, Martunas said. But a fire at the plant in March put those plans behind schedule.
Farley and Sons is ready to start delivering the material to Dragon as soon as the concrete maker is able to receive it, which Martunas said will likely be in June.
While he admits it’s a longshot, Farley has expressed interest in purchasing the Route 90 property where the carpet-like material is located. Farley said the property is a perfect place for a landscaping business to be located. The property would also allow the company to begin quarrying for crushed aggregate rock.
“We’d love to [purchase the property],” Farley said. “It’s a great piece of property for the future of Farley Inc.”
Farley expressed his interest to the Warren planning board earlier this spring, but the town hasn’t taken any action, according to interim town manager Sherry Howard.
To purchase the property, Farley has two options. The first would be to contact the owners of the property, though for years no one has been able to track them down.
The second would be for Warren residents to agree to take the property through foreclosure, which voters have repeatedly rejected in the past. If the property is foreclosed on, the town could then put it up for sale, and Farley, along with other interested buyers, could bid on the property.
“I’m not going to say [a purchase] is going to happen,” Farley said. “I think it’s a longshot.”
Watch: Attempted removal of massive Warren waste pile begins in 2015