April 07, 2020

DEP plans open forum tonight in Orono on former G-P boiler

ORONO – Concerns about air emissions from the biomass boiler in Old Town slated to be operated by Red Shield Environmental LLC, the company purchasing the former Georgia-Pacific Corp. mill, have prompted Orono councilors and administrators to request a public hearing to get some answers.

While a public hearing won’t be held at this point, the Department of Environmental Protection has agreed to hold an information session at 7:30 tonight at the Orono Municipal Building to hear concerns and answer questions.

In addition to applying for the transfer of all existing licenses at the facility, Red Shield is requesting a change to the current air permit to extend the compliance period to allow the new company additional time to meet state requirements, DEP Commissioner David Littell said Monday.

“The purpose of all this is simply to get information about what that means,” Orono Town Manager Cathy Conlow said on Monday.

Conlow explained that the town, an abutter to the mill property, doesn’t want to hinder the mill redevelopment, but does have questions that residents and officials want answered.

“Please do not construe this letter to mean the town of Orono is opposed to the biomass boiler project,” Conlow wrote to the DEP. “The purpose is simply to allow a process whereby town officials and local citizens can learn more about the proposed modification and express any concerns or ask questions about the same.”

When the boiler originally was permitted by the DEP, Orono didn’t request a public hearing or information session.

“I don’t remember there being a public hearing process,” Conlow said. “I don’t remember us receiving notification to that.”

A public information session on the boiler was held March 31, 2004, in Old Town by the DEP and G-P.

“While I respect the request and need for information, I find it upsetting that this request comes at such a late date and time from a neighboring community,” Old Town City Manager Peggy Daigle said Monday.

In addition to Red Shield, which will manage the facility, four other companies have signed on to the mill redevelopment project.

Tamarack Energy, a renewable energy developer, will operate the biomass boiler. The plan is to first produce electricity to sell on the power grid, and then convert the boiler to produce ethanol.

The other companies are: Lamtec Inc., a maker of pressure-sensitive labels; and Hallowell International LLC, a low-temperature heat pump manufacturer.

“I want the citizens of the city of Old Town to know that the city has been very diligent in working to protect the city as the paper mill redevelopment progressed,” Daigle said.

She added that Orono’s property is not immediately adjacent to the mill property.

“In fact, the Orono town line is approximately one-half mile from the location of the biomass boiler at the mill site,” Daigle said. “The paper mill property is immediately adjacent to two other parcels, one owned by Guilford Transportation and the other vacant parcel is owned by G-P.”

In her letter to the DEP, Conlow states that about 55 acres of the proposed Red Shield property “extends into Orono along the Penobscot River. This land is immediately adjacent to land owned and maintained by the town of Orono.”

Orono also is requesting that the state discuss plans to require a baseline survey of air quality conditions and determine how Red Shield will conduct ongoing monitoring to determine what, if any, effects the biomass boiler and proposed license modification will have on Orono’s air quality.

The boiler has passed a number of emissions tests, Marc Cone, senior environmental engineer with the DEP’s air quality division, said in a previous interview. He added that the boiler can be brought into compliance and that G-P was permitted to burn construction and demolition debris wood waste, although the company never did so.

The full evaluation of the boiler never was completed by G-P, he added. The levels of carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide were higher than desired, and the new owner has submitted a plan to lower the levels.

Littell explained that in order to understand how the boiler operates, the new owners and operators intend to burn a mix of 50 percent construction and demolition debris, also known as waste wood, and 50 percent green or other wood.

“They need to get it up to full operation to make sure they fully understand it,” Littell said. “We want to evaluate it with what it’s ultimately going to be burning.”

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