April 07, 2020

Orono gets answers on mill’s biomass boiler

ORONO – Orono councilors met Wednesday to hear answers from state environmental officials about the biomass boiler in Old Town that is slated to be operated by Red Shield Environmental LLC, the company purchasing the former Georgia-Pacific Corp. mill.

The public information session was held in response to a request from Orono councilors and administrators who have concerns about air emissions from the boiler in the neighboring city.

“[We] took the only course of action we thought we had open to us,” Council Chairman Geoff Gordon said.

While the Department of Environmental Protection decided against holding a public hearing at this point, DEP Commissioner David Littell agreed to hold a public forum to hear concerns and answer questions, which centered largely on air emissions from the boiler.

The meeting was attended by more than 50 people, including about 30 former G-P employees and union members, Old Town city councilors and City Manager Peggy Daigle, a few Orono residents, and state legislators.

“We weren’t aware at the state level that the concerns that the Orono Town Council was having were happening,” Littell said.

Red Shield is requesting that all of G-P’s existing permits regarding the mill, including the boiler and wastewater treatment facility, be transferred.

In addition to Red Shield, which will manage the facility, four other companies have signed on to the G-P 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.

Red Shield also has asked DEP for an extension in the compliance period to allow the new company additional time to meet state emissions requirements for the boiler.

G-P never completed testing on the boiler to control the combustion correctly.

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.

Orono councilors asked several questions regarding emission levels of pollutants such as lead and asbestos that can be contained in the sorted construction and demolition debris wood waste that Red Shield intends, and is permitted, to burn.

Littell assured councilors that there are regulations in place to closely monitor emission levels.

For example, each 10,000 tons of wood waste that comes into the facility will be tested, in addition to a monthly test of the material.

“We fully expect with the fixes identified here to have compliance,” Littell said.

He and other DEP staff in attendance also assured Orono councilors that all contamination at the mill site that was found during the DEP’s review over the last six months will be cleaned up by the new owner.

“We haven’t set a specific time frame on that, [but] this isn’t the kind of thing that goes on for years,” Littell said. “It’s much more costly for them not to do it as a typical matter.”

The commissioner added that the contamination found at the site is typical for a paper mill facility and isn’t extensive.

The meeting continued for more than two hours, but Orono town manager Cathy Conlow said that, although she couldn’t speak for the council, Wednesday’s session appeared to be what they were looking for.

The commissioner agreed that the concern from the Orono council was relevant.

“I don’t think the public concern from council or any citizen is inappropriate,” Littell said. “It makes the process work.”

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