CORINNA — The contamination left behind when the Eastland Woolen Mill shut down in October 1996 may qualify the town of Corinna for millions of dollars in federal aid to clean up the hazardous waste site and demolish the downtown building.
Corinna selectmen met Thursday morning with representatives of the state Department of Environmental Protection to discuss the pros and cons associated with asking to be placed on the National Priorities List as a Superfund site.
Last fall, selectmen submitted an application to the federal Environmental Protection Agency for a Brown Fields grant to fund an assessment of the mill site and surrounding area, to determine what remediation could do for the property. The Brown Fields program assesses contaminated industrial sites for cleanup and redevelopment. It does not provide funding for the actual work.
Since that application, officials with the EPA determined the site might be better served with the NPL listing. With that information, the application for the Brown Fields grant has stalled as officials with the DEP, EPA and Corinna selectmen, weigh the options of both programs.
The DEP’s Mark Hyland told selectmen Thursday that the EPA would not likely approve applications for both Superfund money and a Brown Fields grant.
“Brown Fields is highly competitive. Only 7 to 10 percent [of applicants] get funded,” he said, pointing out there was no assurance Corinna would receive the grant.
The grant is also limited to $200,000, unlike the Superfund program that has millions to donate to the cleanup.
The Eastland site includes groundwater contamination created by chlorobenzenes, a by-product of the woolen manufacturing. The chlorobenzenes contaminated wells in the area for more than a dozen homes and a school. When that initial contamination was discovered, the homes and school were placed on a municipal water system. Since then, however, the contamination has expanded to several other homes in the area that are still using wells.
Hyland and others from DEP also advised the board that a Brown Fields grant could limit the scope of the cleanup and take longer to complete then would an NPL designation.
“We don’t want to gain in the short term, and lose on the long term,” said Ed Logue, Regional Director of DEP.
Hyland said an NPL designation and cleanup could take five to 10 years to complete and include a larger area. “Picking away” at the project piecemeal, beginning with the Brown Fields grant, could double that time and reduce the effect, he said.
Selectman Galen McKenney, who is also an assistant fire chief, said he was concerned the town may not have a long time to remove the mill. He expects that abandoned and accessible as it is, the property is a fire hazard that will ultimately burn if it is not demolished.
“You can’t secure [the mill],” said Selectman Marvin Lister.
If the town opts to become an NPL site, the board was assured demolition could be the first part of the project. The extent of contamination would determine how much property would be removed or replaced. The three selectmen present Thursday, including Chairman Steve Buck, believe the project should go beyond simple demolition of the mill.
Currently, business owners on Main Street can’t sell or expand their businesses because of the contamination at the downtown mill site. “I was told no bank would write you a loan,” said Lister, who owns one of the businesses.
Demolishing and rebuilding Main Street businesses would be among their goals, if the project could include that aspect. That type of project would also work well with the MDOT plans to move Route 7.
Before a decision is made to pursue the NPL designation, selectmen expect to meet with EPA officials to learn more about the possibilities and assurances associated with the program.
A secondary concern discussed by the board involves the long-term plans to reroute Route 7 through Corinna village and eliminate a 90 degree turn onto Main Street. The new path would pass behind what is left of Corinna’s business district and require a new bridge on that stretch of road.
Lister asked if the contamination in the river bed in that area could jeopardize the Maine Department of Transportation plans for Route 7. He was told it was not likely, based on similar projects elsewhere.
Looking to the future, selectmen want to remove the fire hazard created by the abandoned mill, clean up the contaminants in the soil and water, and ultimately create a new downtown. If the Superfund can do that, the board is willing to take that route.