May 30, 2020

Brewer councilors, DEP official discuss contamination at junkyard

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has taken a lot of flak in recent years from some Maine communities, but the agency was one step ahead of Brewer Tuesday night.

An agenda item, to have the city manager contact the DEP and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about having a junkyard inspected, was never raised, because an inspection of the junkyard already had been carried out by the DEP.

Brian Beneski, an environmental specialist with the Augusta office of the DEP, told city councilors that an inspection of the former Brewer junk complex at 52 Maple St. was conducted last November because someone had complained that transformer fluid had been disposed of on the site.

Beneski said the DEP took five soil samples, testing for polychlorinated biphenyls and metals. Testers included metals when they found a pile of battery casings on the site, he said.

Beneski said that high levels of contaminants, in amounts of 28,000 milligrams of contaminant per kilogram of soil, were found there. Testers also found pockets of high lead concentration.

Because the old junkyard covers several acres, Beneski could not say whether the contamination was true for the entire site.

The DEP investigation also determined that there were low levels of PCBs, but enough so that it could call for a cleanup.

Council Chairman Alan Whittemore tried to pin Beneski down to a time frame for inspecting and cleaning up the facility, but Beneski said he couldn’t do that just now.

Before the DEP acts, it has to search for previous owners, users of the property, and anyone who hauled items to the site and charge them with being responsible for the pollution. If they refuse to pay for the cleanup the agency can initiate litigation to force the cleanup.

Or, the agency could begin the cleanup if there is a refusal by the owners, and do its cost recovery later.

As to current danger from the site, Beneski said that the only exposure would come through ingestion of the soil. Contact through air or water doesn’t seem to be a problem at this time. He also said he checked for possible well contamination in the neighborhood.

Councilor Michael Maybury asked if the city could just cap the area and make it into a safe park. He asked Beneski to consider possible options for the city that were safe and at a reasonable cost before spending thousands of DEP dollars in searching out the owners and users of the facility over many years.

The city could take the property today for deliquent taxes, but has refrained from doing so because of the possibility of responsibility for a major cleanup or litigation.

The owner has moved to Florida and repeated requests from the city for taxes, cleanup and for permission to install manholes on his property have been ignored, said City Manager Harold Parks.

Robertson wanted to know whether the DEP would require the owner to fence in the property, and Beneski said that request would be made.

Councilor Paul Hatt wanted to know if the Superfund, a federal fund used to clean up polluted sites, could be used on the junkyard cleanup.

Beneski said the site would need to be scored to see if it meets a national priority list. Without further testing he did not know where the junkyard would score on such a priority list.

Councilors also wanted to know about removing a demolished building, and Beneski said he would have to get back to them on that.

Parks wanted to know if he still had to make a request to DEP or EPA for assistance, and Beneski said that had been taken care of. He promised to get back to the council with more information.

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