Tons of dirty dirt

By Peter Lammert | May 31, 2012

For those of you living in Owls Head, South Thomaston or Thomaston and who use the Three Town Cooperative Transfer Station (3 Town Coop ) on Buttermilk Drive, you may have wondered about the changes that you may have noticed at the transfer station since last fall.

The changes came about after a DEP staffer walked onto the site on April 6, 2011, and announced that the metal pile would be no more. The metal pile had been there since 1984 when the transfer station was built. The federal Clean Air Act forbade any more open burning “dumps” in the three towns. An interlocal agreement between the three towns created the cooperative transfer station. The facility has remained the same since it was built but the number of users has increased and single-stream recycling was introduced five years ago. The 3 Town Coop has been trying to get a permit to expand the facility since 2005. As a matter of fact the engineer from Pine Tree Engineering in Bath recently told us that his son was on the original crew that surveyed the property for the improvement when he was a high school senior. He has now completed college and is working full time for the firm and we haven’t been able to move off square one. But that is about three separate stories long.

So the 3 Town Coop board proceeded to do the bidding of the DEP in hopes that if we did what we were told to do, maybe, just maybe, we could secure the permit for the expansion. Grimmel Industries, the scrap metal company in Pejepscot, who has taken away the metal pile for many years, was asked to provide a roll off container for the scrap metal, which they did. We were planning to build a ramp so that trucks could still back up to the roll off to dump when Ryan Sawyer suggested to move the 40-foot-long box, in which we store televisions and computer monitors, over to a new concrete pad and use the space where the box had been to house the metal roll off. So the metal pile as such was a thing of the past. There remained one slight problem that the DEP wanted taken care of.

The soil under the pile had to be removed, stored, tested for hazardous materials and then disposed of based on what was in that soil. So a contractor to dig and move the soil was arranged for, the engineer from Pine Tree Engineering was lined up who in turn contracted a soil scientist from Katahdin Soil Services to be there when the dig occurred to sample the soil as it was dug. The day chosen for the dig dawned rainy but with all the entangled arrangements, we went ahead with the dig.

The soil where the metal pile had been was skimmed off to a depth where original soil was exposed, about a foot down under where the pile had been. But in three places, the dirty soil went deeper than the surrounding area so the contractor dug as the engineer advised him to do until he was down to the undisturbed layer of clay. The soil was loaded in wheelers that moved it off to the north and south sides of the dig where it was dumped onto construction grade 15 mil plastic. Mind you it was raining, everything was wet and getting wetter and the tires on the wheeler were raising havoc with the blue plastic liner. The soil scientist pounced on every load that was dumped to get a sample, which was cataloged by location from where it was dug, its temperature and I have no idea what else. This “Big Dig” went on for most of the day until the dirty soil had been excavated, piled and then tarps had to be placed over the piles. We had no idea of the volume of soil that had to be dealt with.

About the middle of November during an unusually warm week, the new pad was poured on the west edge of the “Big Dig” site and after the forms were stripped, 154 yards of crushed stone, coarse and fine gravel were brought in to fill the area of the “Big Dig.” The TV trailer was placed on its new pad, the roll off for the metal was placed next to the concrete wall and we waited to hear what was in the soil.

And we waited, waited, and waited some more. Seems there was a rather high lead content in some of the samples that caused the soil-testing company to do more tests, which meant more trips to the piles of stored dirt and more lab time. I was hoping that the soils could go to the landfill called Juniper Ridge but after finding out that there were 131 parts per whatever of lead in the soil, it was determined that the only place it could go in state was to the Crossroads Landfill in Norridgewock. The soil tests cost over $5,000.

My next job was to find a hauler who had the correct DEP credentials (Type A non-hazardous) to haul the material to the approved landfill. I contacted the two largest local haulers in our area and after several weeks of not hearing back from them, I secured the list of licensed haulers from the DEP. The two I contacted were not on the list so I broadened my search to companies suggested by knowledgeable parties. I ended up with three bids: $110 per hour of trucking time (Thomaston to Norridgewock and back, depending on traffic, could be four hours ); $425 per roll off load [plus a $50 fee for a plastic liner]; and finally a flat $16.35 per ton in trucks with trailers that were built to contain such materials (the tailgates of the trailers had rubber gaskets that were held closed with turnbuckles). I opted to go with the later company.

Again on an agreed upon day, the contractor who had originally dug the dirt was on hand to load it into the special trailers that held about 30 tons per load. It took about 15 minutes to load a trailer and the first day saw five loads in two different trucks hauled off site. The following day, an additional four loads finished up the disposal job that had started the previous October. About 260 tons of “dirty dirt” was removed at a cost of just under $4,400 to the Crossroads Landfill in Norridgewock.

The bill for taking the soil is still pending but I’m guessing it will be on the order of $15,000. When the cost for performing the work is tallied, I’m expecting the final cost to be about $50,000.

The project nor the funds to pay for it were not even on the 3 Town Coop’s radar when the DEP told us to clean it up. We have used monies set aside in escrow to do the expansion work. Hopefully the DEP will now allow us to expand on our non-conforming site. Most sites that want to expand need a 250-foot clearance to all sides and written permission from all abutters before the DEP will consider the expansion.

Our site isn’t even 250-feet wide let alone the 500 feet or more required between Buttermilk Drive on the west and a brook on the east for an expansion. The 3 Town Coop purchased land to the south upon which to expand and we have just received news that an abutter to the north has signed off on the expansion after being held up for several years. All the other abutters signed off years ago. Now we hope that the present administration will OK our expansion plans.

Next story will be the switch to single-stream recycling at the 3 Town Coop and what the current cost is.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Eric Thurston | Jun 06, 2012 22:38

Peter - Thanks for the insightful article that shows how our government protects us, the unsuspecting public, from exposure to another probably insignificant health hazard. I realize there are certainly many health hazards that we need to be concerned with, but a few parts per million (or billion?) of lead in soil I do not plan to eat really doesn't raise much personal concern. I am, however, running kind of low on cash, so I hope they are not wasting my money. 

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