WARREN — A committee that has been studying how to deal with the 70-acre waste disposal site that once was a rifle range is recommending townspeople foreclose on the property after 23 consecutive years of passing on that action.

The Warren Select Board and the Steamship Navigation Advisory Committee met Tuesday night, Nov. 29, with nearly 20 residents at the fire station to discuss the options for dealing with the property located off Route 90.

Committee Chair Ed LaFlamme said the committee is recommending this year that the townspeople foreclose on the land that is officially still owned by the defunct Steamship corporation.

Townspeople will decide at a special town meeting scheduled for 6:15 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 7 at the fire station.

The Committee was formed after the December 2021 special town meeting in which residents last voted against foreclosing on the property.

At the Nov. 29 meeting, a proposed agreement between the town and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection was distributed to those in attendance. The agreement points out that the town would be exempt from any liabilities from the environmental hazards that exist on the site. The town would be required to communicate and cooperate with the DEP on a clean-up of the site.

Chair LaFlamme said that the property taxpayers would not pay any money for the cleanup.

There is about $300,000 remaining in account with the DEP for the cleanup of the site. That money could be used as matching town money for obtaining federal grants. Many of the grants are available only to government-owned properties, so if the city forecloses and becomes owner of the property it could receive those grants.

Maine Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Melanie Loyzim attended the Nov. 29 meeting and voiced support for the proposed agreement. The Warren Select Board has not yet discussed or voted on the proposed agreement. The Board has also not taken a position on foreclosure, saying that is a decision for the townspeople.

DEP Commissioner Loyzim said she was at the site 10 years ago.

“I hope it’s not the same situation 10 years from now,” Loyzim said.

Then DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho toured the property in 2015, and said she was stunned by what she saw with mountains of wastes.

Residents have agreed since 1999 to waive foreclosure on the 70-acre parcel on Route 90 because of concerns about the potential environmental cleanup the town would be responsible for if it foreclosed on the property.

Back in 1997, Randall and Kathleen Dunican bought the land under the corporate name of Steamship Navigation Company. Billed as the R.D. Outfitters Rifle Range, the company accepted about 175,000 cubic yards of polyester fiber scraps from the former Gates Formed-Fibre Products, Inc. of Auburn, saying it would be used to create berms for the rifle range.

The property owners were paid an estimated $1 million to accept the material that had been largely used as linings for the trunks of motor vehicles. Opponents to the range questioned whether the owners were simply using the property as an unlicensed dump to make money by accepting the material.

The owners abandoned the property after accepting the more than 27,000 tons of waste. The owners have not paid their property taxes, leading to the need for the town to vote on whether to foreclose on the property.

Town attorney William Kelly said the town tried years ago to locate Dunican but without success. His whereabouts is still not known.

The town and Maine Department of Environmental Protection took the company to court and recovered $410,000 as part of a $1.5 million settlement with Steamship.

The DEP has tried for the past 20 years to clean up the property by contracting with companies that would reuse the wastes. Each of those efforts, however, ended with little waste being removed.

LaFlamme said the site is becoming worse because people are going on the property and dumping refuse there, including beds, toilets, construction debris, and deer carcasses. He said that there are 13 people who have been caught on camera dumping material. The town can control that if the property becomes town owned.

He estimated there is about 3,000 tractor trailer loads of material on the site.

“This won’t get better unless we do it,” he said.

LaFlamme said one option for the material that may still be a future option is giving it to Dragon Products to burn as fuel. Several years ago, the DEP reached an agreement with Farley and Sons to remove the wastes and truck it to the Dragon Products for use as fuel by the cement manufacturer in Thomaston. Approximately 16 tons of material were removed from the site and taken to Dragon, but that stopped about three years ago.

The DEP said there were material handling challenges at Dragon, and the additional cost and manpower required to physically process the wastes led to the effort ending.

LaFlamme said that this may be an option again because when fuel prices increase this material becomes a more appealing option.

The DEP signed a contract with Triumvirate Environmental Inc. of Somerville, Mass., in October 2013. At no cost to the town or state, Triumvirate was to truck the material to a manufacturing plant in Pennsylvania, where it would be converted into composite lumber. LaFlamme said the committee contacted Triumvirate again this year but the company is not interested because of the expense of processing the material.

Two options that are not likely to be acceptable for use of the land is housing and mining.

There are a couple contractors interested in the property. The proposed agreement between the town and the DEP also exempts future owners of the property — if the town were to sell all or pieces of the property — from liability for environmental hazards.

Loyzim said that polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs) have been detected on the site and one well off site was found to have that chemical. The PFAs level is 200 parts per trillion where the debris is dumped, which is 10 times the state level of 20 which is considered unsafe. The off-site well had a level of 12.

She said that she does not expect that the PFAs problem will worsen on the site because the material has already been exposed to the site for more than 20 years.

There is also lead contamination from its brief use as a rifle range.

The Warren Select Board and Steamship Navigation Advisory Committee at the Nov. 29 meeting. Photo by Stephen Betts

About 20 people attended the Nov. 29 meeting. Photo by Stephen Betts