While town officials wait for proposals to complete the cleanup of chemical contamination at Tannery Park, some are questioning the town's plans for the property.

The cleanup is made possible by a $200,000 Brownfields Cleanup grant awarded to the town of Camden in April by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The grant will be used to prevent contact with residual chemicals in the soil, using methods including adding cover soil and landscaping to cap off part of the property.

Questions raised by two Camden residents focus on whether plans for the town-owned property are changing to favor economic development over park and green space. Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell stated Oct. 15 that the town's vision for a multi-use site has not changed. The Request for Qualifications seeks remediation of Tannery Park “so that we can move forward with whatever the plan is for the site,” she said.

Steve Gold takes issue, in a letter to the editor, with the RFQ's description on page 3, of Camden's vision for the property "as being developed into a mixed-use development with the Riverwalk, and possibly community green space." He notes that the RFQ does not mention the "already well-established Farmers Market."

Nina Holland states that based on the RFQ, "the proposed use of Tannery Park has shifted from green space to a commercial building." She writes that the Tannery Work Group, which completed a plan for the property in 2017, called for three-quarters green space, with the remainder for "a possible building."

Caler-Bell explained that the purpose of the RFQ is only to obtain an environmental consultant to oversee the Brownfields cleanup process, and is a requirement of the EPA grant the town received. The RFQ's focus is to remediate Tannery Park for multiple uses without narrowing those uses at this point, she said.

She confirmed that the vision for Tannery Park has not changed since the "Cleanup Workplan" was submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency in June. That plan described the vision as including a "park or community space, as well as a year-round farmers market" and the likelihood that "a portion of the property will also be separated and redeveloped for commercial use, such as restaurants, boutique retail stores, or small local business."

The town will issue another request for proposals in the future, Caler-Bell said “to see if anyone is interested in doing development that would co-exist with the green space and Farmers Market.” She said this RFP will open up the town-owned property "to a lot of potential uses. Any use that requires the town to enter into a long-term lease or sell the land would go to a town meeting,” she said.

The RFQ, due Oct. 26, calls for "qualifications statements and proposals for the planning, oversight and documentation of Brownfields cleanup activities at the former Apollo Tannery site." The cleanup targets remediation of residual chemicals in the soil left by the leather tannery that operated there until 1999. Low levels of chemicals from the operation of Apollo Tannery remain in the surface soils on the property, according to an environmental report prepared in 2017.

Soils with the most serious chemical contamination were removed in 2008, and that area was capped off, following remediation work approved by the EPA. This cleanup, located on the Rawson Avenue side of the property, involved excavation and removal of soils, and capping off the area. The work was paid for with a municipal bond totaling $836,000 and a federal grant. Camden's annual payment on the 20-year bond is $60,783.

In 2003, the town acquired the property due to non-payment of taxes by former owner Apollo Tanning. In 2004, Camden issued a municipal bond to pay for demolition and removal of unsafe structures on the property, and is still repaying the bond, according to the RFQ.

The EPA Brownfields program is part of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as Superfund, enacted by Congress on Dec. 11, 1980.

The full text of the letters to the editor submitted by Gold and Holland can be read on Villagesoup.com and in the Oct. 18 issue of The Camden Herald.

The complete town of Camden Request for Qualifications and Clean Up Plan can be found on the town website at camdenmaine.gov, by looking for "RFQ's, RFP's, Bids & Services" on the left side of the home page.