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Updated: Contaminated soil found at former tannery site

Environmental assessment underway
By Daniel Dunkle | Nov 21, 2019
Photo by: Daniel Dunkle Select Board Vice Chairperson Alison McKellar points out debris from the former tannery site on the river bank including a large, rusted tank.

Camden — Representatives from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the town of Camden were busy at the former Apollo Tannery property Nov. 21 figuring out what is buried in the river banks there.

Planning and Development Director Jeremy Martin confirmed that contaminated soil was found at the site and will need to be tested. He said the results are expected in two to three weeks.

Select Board Vice Chairperson Alison McKellar was there working with them in a hard hat and waterproof boots.

"We found some heavily stained soil with a very strong petroleum smell," she said of the find in an email later. "The most heavily impacted area may actually have more to do with the woolen mill than the tannery. It was operated as a textile mill until about 1954, and the area where we were today actually corresponds with the 'waste building.'”

Earlier, she was able to point out the many places on the river bank where debris and fill from the former tannery and perhaps the woolen mill remain.

Some of it blends in to the untrained eye. She would pull apart what appears to be dirt in the bank to find that it was bits of wool and hide from the former leather-making work. In other cases, large pieces of rusted metal and large, deteriorating old tanks are clearly visible from the water's edge.

"I've been begging for this to happen for years," McKellar said.

She argued it was illogical to ask the feds to invest in cleanup of only part of the site when there were visible materials along the shore. She added she was even concerned about sharp objects found on the site. She said the project makes sense given the liability the town is exposed to with these materials so close to the river walk.

She said the community is committed to maintaining the environment and being a good steward to the river.

Bryan Sladky of Silar Services, which is working with the town at the site, said the debris and fill material appear to be a single layer that goes back from where it is becoming visible along the bank to about the place where the riverside trail is located. He said he is not seeing anything alarming, but the workers at the site are taking soil samples to test for the presence of any chemicals.

The town has a $200,000 EPA grant for work at the site.

In addition to the assessment, there are plans to eventually cap the site with fresh, clean soil that will put a barrier between the people using the property and any possible contaminants.

Martin said several assessments of the site had been done between 1996 and 2016, but looking through those assessments, the town found there were gaps in the data. The key problem was no samples had been taken of the material along the banks. This investigation will provide the information needed.

He said the town was considering doing something on its own, but when it reached out to the EPA, the federal agency was willing to help and use its resources, saving the town money.

A pile at the site is clean fill material brought in from the school construction project, he said.

EPA brought in its contractor, Nobis, to do the work. Also on site Nov. 21 was Alan Peterson, the EPA Brownfields Project Manager out of the Region 1 Boston office.

Federal EPA officials and Maine DEP representatives worked at the former tannery site in Camden Nov. 21 doing an assessment of material in the river bank. (Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
Select Board Vice Chairperson Alison McKellar holds material from the river bank that may include hides from the leather-making operation and wool. (Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
Debris along the river bank in Camden. (Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
This pile includes clean fill and soil from the school construction project to be used in capping the former tannery site in Camden. (Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
Select Board Vice Chairperson Alison McKellar works with EPA, DEP and town officials down at the river bank along the tannery property in Camden Nov. 21. (Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
Protecting the environment in Camden is the main focus for the project. (Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
Numerous bottles, many of them appearing to be from the 1940s, have been found along the river bank in Camden. (Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
This is only a portion of the bottles that have been found along the river bank in Camden. (Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
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Comments (2)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Nov 26, 2019 12:20

Thankfully this is being cleaned up. I remember on the farm in Hope when I was young, just married and foolish, we just buried our trash on the back acres of the farm. Thankfully we now are environmentally thoughtful.

Posted by: Jeff Sukeforth | Nov 25, 2019 13:18

Didn't the Town of Camden pay a company to come in and re mediate the site already?  Not sure how long ago that was but is there any recourse in challenging them on a job not well done?


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