WESTBROOK — State officials say they cannot predict how the Stroudwater River will be affected if Pike Industries is allowed to blast rock at its quarry off Spring Street.

A large crowd gathered Wednesday night in hopes of having that question answered. But the Department of Environmental Protection couldn’t offer a firm answer.

Some residents are concerned that a plume of chemical contaminants from the former Unitrode property at 2 Eisenhower Drive – 300 feet southeast of Pike’s quarry – would be driven toward the Stroudwater River by increased blasting.

“I cannot answer that question conclusively,” said Harold D. Nilsson, a geologist with the DEP.

“Not knowing is enough cause for concern,” said Bruce Chuluda, a member of the committee that was formed by Westbrook’s mayor to develop a compromise that could keep Pike Industries in Westbrook and ease the concerns of residents and business owners.

Nilsson and Mark Hyland of the DEP were invited by the Spring Street Quarry/Industrial Zone Committee to address the issue of environmental contamination. The committee has until the end of April to come up with a recommendation for the City Council.

The city has proposed rezoning the Five Star Industrial Park, where the quarry is located, from industrial to light manufacturing, which would effectively put Pike Industries out of business in Westbrook.

“I don’t know if there is an environmental risk to expanding the quarry, but there is a way to find out,” Nilsson said. “You have to blast and you have to monitor. You have to have reliable scientific information before you can draw any conclusions.”

The state has known about the contamination at Unitrode since the early 1990s. More than 30 monitoring wells have been installed on the property.

Nilsson said the contaminants, including trichloroethylene, is moving toward the Stroudwater River but there is no evidence to suggest the river has been contaminated.

All of the properties in that neighborhood have public water supplies, so there are no concerns about drinking water contamination.

“In general, the concentrations of TCE have been decreasing,” Nilsson said. “At the moment, there is no risk to the public health.”

Some residents still worry that the state and the city are not giving the pollution threat the attention it deserves.

“Are you guys doing everything you can to protect us? Is there anyone out there protecting us?” Gary Swanson of Westbrook asked Nilsson.

“We are motivated by evidence,” Nilsson responded. “If we have evidence, then we can act on it.”

Mike Daley said he lives on the Stroudwater River. Children swim in the river, and he can see redtail hawks and geese from his backyard.

“How do we stop (the contamination) from continuing on toward the river?” he asked Nilsson.

“It’s a major concern, because once you detect pollution in the river, it’s too late.”

Pike representatives attend committee meetings but rarely comment during the proceedings.

After Wednesday’s meeting, Pike’s spokesman, Dennis Bailey, characterized the environmental pollution issue as a “scare tactic” to drive Pike out of Westbrook.

“Despite Pike doing some blasting, the state is adamant that it has had no effect on the river,” Bailey said. “They even said the (TCE) contamination has decreased. And tonight they said there is no cause for alarm.”

Bailey noted that it was Unitrode, not Pike Industries, that created the problem.

“With or without Pike, you are going to have contamination on that site,” Bailey said.

Westbrook Works, which calls itself a coalition for a stronger, cleaner city, has raised some of the environmental concerns.

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]