A work plan outlining environmental improvements to Tannery Park, the former home of two tanneries and a woolen mill, is awaiting approval from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

In April, Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell announced a $200,000 Brownfields Revitalization grant award from the EPA to remediate residual chemicals remaining in topsoil at the site. The grant requires a match of $40,000 in local funds from the town. The approval of the work plan submitted to the EPA by the town of Camden is the next step in moving the environmental cleanup project forward.

When the property is cleaned up to prevent contact with chemicals in the soil, the vision is for "a park or community space, as well as a year-round farmers' market," in addition to a part of the site to be "separated and redeveloped for commercial use, such as restaurants, boutique retail stores, or small local business."

The vision embraced by town officials brings together two views for the property that have divided community members over the past 10 years. One view favored inviting a business that would create good-paying jobs to develop the property, while the other view favored open park space, a playground and a permanent home for the Camden Farmers' Market. In 2016-17 a Tannery Workgroup helped to unite the competing visions. Caler-Bell has credited work done by this group as one of the reasons Camden succeeded in obtaining the EPA grant through a highly competitive application process.

work plan details

The main features of the remediation work plan are removal of large concrete slabs in the center of the property and the construction of "engineered cover systems." The possible cover systems listed in the work plan include building slabs, paved parking areas, concrete or stone walls and patios, and landscaped beds. The remediation work will be bid out to a qualified environmental professional, according to the work plan.

Community involvement and outreach is planned for the project, which Caler-Bell calls the final step in the property's cleanup. The work plan calls for creation of a Brownfields Cleanup Task Force that includes town staff, the environmental contractor selected, EPA representatives and local citizen stakeholders. Outreach takes the form of a public meeting to educate community members and businesses about the project, notification of cleanup schedules to adjacent property owners and community groups, and printed and online materials available to the public. A 30-day public comment period is included in the work plan.

In 2016, Maine Department of Environmental Protection representatives and Ransom Consulting Inc. personnel brought on board by the Tannery Work Group determined that Benzo(a)pyrene and arsenic was found in the majority of 18 soil samples collected at the Washington Street site. MDEP noted that surface soil concentrations of benzo(a)pyrene were higher at the site, compared with surrounding areas, but were similar to levels of the chemicals found around paved areas and parking lots anywhere in Camden.

At the time, Ransom Consulting recommended remediating the site to prevent contact with the existing soil. Suggested remediation options included covering the property with fill, soil and grass.

Representatives of the Camden Farmers Market, which operates Wednesdays and Saturdays on a grass-covered section of Tannery Park, were involved in the Work Group meetings.

In 2008, an extensive cleanup was completed on a part of the Rawson Avenue side of the tannery property, where improperly stored chemicals leaked into the soil. This cleanup involved extensive soil testing, significant excavation and removal of contamination, and capping off the area. The work was financed with a federal grant and a municipal bond totaling $836,000. Camden's annual payment on the 20-year bond is $60,783.

The property was developed by the Camden Woolen Mill in 1887. Tannery operations began on the site in 1953. Apollo Tannery operated there from 1997 to 1999. It vacated the property due to bankruptcy, leaving five buildings to deteriorate, and significant chemical contamination of soil on a portion of the property from the improperly stored chemicals.