CAMDEN — Environmental remediation of the former tannery property is back to the top of town government’s to do list, after the deadline to use a $200,000 Brownfields grant was extended for a year.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant awarded to the town in April 2018 had a three-year deadline of October 2021. The town now has a one-year extension on the grant.

The 3.5 acre property located at 116 Washington St. is in the middle of a residential neighborhood, about a mile from downtown. It has special zoning to allow for mixed-use development.

It was the site of  local industry — tanneries and woolen mills —which employed residents, but also left behind chemical contamination and debris. Apollo Tannery, the last industrial operation on the site, operated for over 100 years before filing for bankruptcy in 1999.

Remediation will focus on residual chemicals in surface soils, according to Stephen Dyer of Ransom Environmental Consulting. Soil cover will be used to prevent contact with these chemicals, assessed to be at low levels. The mostly grassy area to be covered is on the northwest side of the lot and is visible from Washington Street.

Soil cover is a common method of cleanup for Brownfields sites, Dyer said. Ransom has overseen 10-12 similar projects over the past few years.

Near the southeast section of the Riverwalk, some soil will be removed and new soil cover added. After remediation, the property will have restrictions on use of groundwater and excavation. Vapor barriers or venting of foundations slabs will be required for any new buildings constructed.

Ransom was hired to implement cleanup of the property after the town of Camden was awarded the Brownfields grant, Dyer told board members Nov. 3. The environmental company had previously determined chemicals are present at low levels in surface soils.

Dyer gave a presentation on the steps to close out this phase of the cleanup.  These are finalizing the remediation plan; review and approval of the plan by state and federal environmental protection agencies; a public meeting and 30-day public comment period.

The public meeting will go over the remediation in detail, how the grant money will be spent and solicit comments, Dyer said. After the public comment period, Ransom will finish the cleanup design, put the work out to bid, oversee the work and obtain final sign-off from environmental agencies on completion.

About 14 assessments have been conducted on the property since 2000 after Apollo Tannery went bankrupt, according Dyer. These were done by Ransom and other firms, and both state and federal environmental agencies. Major milestones in environmental improvement of the property were demolition of the Apollo Tannery in 2005,  and a cleanup in 2008 of a large area on the southeast end of the lot, where the worst chemical contamination was found. This remediation involved soil excavation, removal and capping of the area. While the town received a large federal grant for the 2008 cleanup, it is still paying off its share of the cleanup, about $1 million dollars, according to officials.

Since 2008, nothing of significance has happened on the property, except for creation of the Riverwalk, Dyer said. Ransom first got involved in 2015 with an assessment, public outreach and preliminary remediation planning. That set Camden up for obtaining another clean-up grant, he said.

During that same period, town residents have fought over whether the lot should be neighborhood park and greenspace or sold for the purpose of commercial development and job creation. By 2017, a community effort to sell the property for commercial use had failed, and another community effort to develop the property as greenspace supported by town funding was underway.

Town Manager Audra Caler’s November 2017 Brownfields grant application sought to remediate the property to redevelop it “as public greenspace, a farmers’ market and commercial spaces.”

The grant application described the tannery as a “blighted and former industrial site” and stresses its “negative impact,” “significant burden” and “detriment to the welfare and well-being” of the “working class residential neighborhood that surrounds the site.”

In 2018, Caler, recently elected Select Board members, and Planning and Development Director Jeremy Martin changed direction to seeking to use the cleanup grant in coordination with a development proposal for the lot that would include its sale to a private owner.

Caler described this direction as an opportunity that would not significantly impact taxpayers. In 2020, the town received four proposals for the property. Two proposals involved the sale of the property, with one building multi-family affordable housing and another workshops for entrepreneurs.

Two proposals were based on continued town ownership of most or all of the property. Friends of the Park submitted a proposal for development of a park and playground, and Midcoast Habitat for Humanity proposed to build three single-family homes on a small portion of the property.

In April, the two-year effort to develop and sell the property failed to produce a proposal to send to voters in 2021.

During discussion Nov. 3, Tom Resek, member of Friends of Tannery Park, brought up the disconnect between town officials’ efforts to develop and sell the property and the stated purpose of the $200,000 Brownfields grant.

Caler said she communicated the town’s use of the grant “every step of the way” to the U.S Environmental Projection Agency. Every development proposal received by the town in 2019 had the farmers’ market and greenspace in it, she said.

Martin said he asked the federal agency whether the grant application determines the end use of the grant, and was told it does not.

Resek and several other residents who are members of the park group also talked about continuous use of the property as a staging area for road and infrastructure construction equipment and materials, which produces dust and noise.

 

Materials for a stormwater drainage upgrade on Elm Street were staged on the former tannery lot. Photo by Susan Mustapich