Status change looms for contaminated Hope property
Hope — Despite ongoing groundwater contamination, the former Union Chemical Company property may be ready for a new owner as early as summer 2013.
According to a joint update from the Environmental Protection Agency and Maine Department of Environmental Protection given at the Jan. 8 Hope Select Board meeting, the agencies are planning to release a summary in the coming months detailing a change in the approach to the effected property.
"For the two agencies, it's a matter of going back to the public to formally say, 'We've done what we can here, we've controlled the situation,'" said EPA project manager Terrence Connelly. "With certain restrictions, the property could be used again."
Connelly said that since the site no longer presents a major risk to the environment — particularly Quiggle Brook — or the community, the EPA and DEP will shift from active cleanup to long-term monitoring of groundwater.
"We've had a lot of success, but we haven't come close to meeting the standards for drinking water and we're not likely to meet them for several hundred years," Connelly said.
The Union Chemical Company, a former paint stripping and solvent manufacturing business, began operations in South Hope in 1967. Groundwater contamination beneath the site and contamination of Quiggle Brook were first discovered by the DEP in late 1979.
A study conducted for the Union Chemical Company in 1981 found two contaminated groundwater plumes present in the area between the facilities and Quiggle Brook. Volatile organic compounds, similar to those processed by Union Chemical Company, were the principal contaminants observed in the plumes and Quiggle Brook, and the DEP closed the hazardous waste treatment operations at the site in June 1984.
MDEP representative Becky Hewitt said that the site was put into receivership in the mid-1980s to prevent the town from being liable for environmental damage caused by the previous owners.
Hewitt added that, thanks to policy changes during the intervening years, municipalities are no longer held liable for dangerous waste on properties foreclosed upon due to back taxes. As such, the Hope property is the only Superfund site in Maine that is in receivership status.
Covenant for future use
Connelly said that specific guidelines governing water use will allow the former Union Chemical property to be used again. Future owners will be subject to this "covenant" until the property is declared fully safe.
Restrictions include a ban on drinking the groundwater, which still contains approximately 500 parts per billion of carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic materials. Additionally, any structure built on the property will need to include a mitigation system for dangerous water from the groundwater, a setup that Connelly likened to venting radon.
Connelly said that the existing building on the Union Chemical property may be retrofitted to exclude groundwater vapors.
Future owners will also have to avoid disturbing decommissioned wells, or carcasses, that remain on the property, Connelly said, and promptly recap carcasses disturbed as part of construction.
MDEP agent David Wright said building restrictions are "not unusual" in similar cases.
According to Connelly, the EPA and MDEP will also reserve the right to access the property and take groundwater readings, ensuring that the chemical plume continues to disperse and does not migrate.
While chemical levels were initially measured at 70-80,000 parts per billion, they are currently rated at 500 PPB, which Connelly described as a good change, but still high. Due to the slow, steady rate of chemical decay, the next groundwater measurement is scheduled for 2014.
Approximately 90 wells remain uncapped on the former Union Chemical property, but Connelly said this number may drop as low as 30 depending on EPA and MDEP's monitoring needs.
Connelly said that he suspects the town of Hope will have the right of first refusal on the property, and that specific plans for the land's use may speed the legal process of removing it from receivership.
The Board of Selectmen agreed to inform the EPA and MDEP of whether or not they are interested in reclaiming the property sometime in spring 2013.
Courier Publications reporter Bane Okholm can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.