THOMASTON – The Maine Department of Environmental Protection may have found a way to make a Warren problem go away by moving it to Thomaston.
DEP has proposed taking 100,000 cubic yards of scrap polyester fiber material, now located at a Route 90 rifle range, to fill a quarry at Maine State Prison after the historic facility is demolished.
One Thomaston resident, who could not attend Tuesday night’s informational hearing with DEP, expressed his concerns in a Dec. 18 letter to the town manager.
“This is presently a Warren problem, a DEP problem, and a R.D. Outfitters problem, let’s not make it a Thomaston problem as well,” Dave Prescott, a Thomaston resident and former Warren code enforcement officer, wrote.
Prescott aired his concerns in the letter, stressing the prison’s close proximity to the St. George River. He pointed out that the Gates Formed Fiber of Auburn material is flammable and difficult to control if it ignites, and that it is mixed with other waste materials.
Steamship Navigation Co., whose owners are Randy and Cathy Dunican, also own R.D. Outfitters. Steamship Navigation had gotten DEP permission to use the material to build berms at the rifle range and, according to estimates by DEP spokesman Michael Parker, received $1 million for taking the material. Berms are mounds that absorb bullets that are fired at the range. Later, the company ran into financial difficulties and was unable to complete the project.
DEP officials had indicated that ultimately the state would become responsible for the work and are now suggesting that the fiber material be used to fill a massive quarry on the prison property. The fiber material would then be covered with the demolition debris when the prison is torn down.
Requests for proposals to demolish Maine State Prison have been solicited and the state plans to award a bid by early January, with commencement of work to begin March 21.
The bid specifications seek quotes on demolition using common fill and a separate estimate for using Gates material, Parker said at Tuesday’s meeting. He indicated that the sludge used to cover some of the berms would not be moved.
Town attorney Paul Gibbons of Camden questioned Parker as to why the town had no input into the process.
“You never mentioned this polyester fill,” Gibbons said. “Once you put out a [request for proposals], you’ve decided what you want.”
Before the state would decide to use the fiber material as fill, it would require a DEP permit and possibly a local permit, Parker said, adding that without both permits the proposal would die.
“If it’s not worrisome or bothersome, why is it being moved from Warren?” Selectman Walter Breen asked.
In responding, Parker said that in Warren the material is exposed and subject to being intentionally set afire, whereas in Thomaston, it would be buried.
“I’m not here tonight to railroad this through or shove it down your throats,” Parker said. “I do believe this is a good idea and it can work.”
The hearing, attended by about 18 people, drew many questions and concerns regarding potential pollution to the nearby St. George River and future liability to the town or other entity that might become owner of the prison property. There were a number of questions related to compaction of the fiber material with demolition debris from the prison and the future use of the land.
“It’s an incredibly stable material,” Parker said. “It’s a chemical engineer’s wonder.”
“It will not start a fire on its own,” Parker assured residents. However, he did say that if a fire started in Warren and it was not promptly put out with the 100 gallons of foam reserved for the site, “we’ve got a fire you can’t control.”
Thomaston Code Enforcement Officer Peter Surek suggested that the state move the material to its Warren property where the new prison is being built, noting it owns several hundred acres there.
“If it’s not hazardous, why not keep it in Warren?” he said. “Why give it to Thomaston?”
Cindy Bertocci, who works for DEP and is a Thomaston resident, said that whoever ends up with the Route 1 property should be protected from future liability.
“That is key,” she said.