WARREN — Residents unanimously agreed Wednesday night to foreclose on the 70-acre waste disposal site that once was a rifle range.

At a special town meeting Dec. 7 at the Warren Fire Station, 52 residents voted without opposition to take over the former Steamship Navigation property off Route 90. The town has for 23 consecutive years waived foreclosure.

This year was different, however, after a citizen committee researched the matter for the past year and recommended that the town foreclose on the property.

The foreclosure will allow the town to be eligible for grants to clean up the sections of the land that are polluted. The town can also sell off all or pieces of the land.

“We’re not getting a penny now,” Selectboard Chair Wayne Luce said.

The town can receive income by selling the property and taxing the new owners.

The special town meeting lasted for 45 minutes. Town Attorney William Kelly made a presentation which was followed by a series of questions from residents.

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

At a Nov. 29, 2022 informational meeting, a proposed agreement between the town and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection was unveiled. 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.

The property taxpayers do not have to pay any money for the cleanup but the town can now apply for grants for cleanup. There is no estimate on how much a clean-up would cost.

There is about $300,000 remaining in an account with the DEP for the cleanup of the site. That money could be used as matching town money for obtaining federal grants.

At the Nov. 29 meeting, Maine Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Melanie Loyzim voiced support for the proposed agreement. The Warren Select Board has not yet discussed or voted on the proposed agreement.

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 Kelly said the town tried years ago to locate Dunican but without success. His whereabouts are 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 last month 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.

LaFlamme also said last month 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 at the Nov. 29 meeting 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.

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.

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

Town Attorney William Kelly spoke to residents at the special town meeting. Photo by Stephen Betts