CORNVILLE — A local farmer said he will proceed with a plan to spread 3,000 cubic yards of petroleum-contaminated soil on farmland despite the objection of the town planners.

The Cornville Planning Board ruled Tuesday night that the proposal to truck soil from the C.N. Brown Oil Co. site, next to the Athens Elementary School, to the Strout dairy farm on West Ridge Road, is subject to oversight by the town, not the state.

Planners said the proposal is not farming, but an industrial and commercial use of land.

The farmer, James Strout Jr., said Wednesday morning that the plan falls under the guidelines of the Maine Department of Agriculture, not home rule, and he plans to proceed with the project.

“We’re going to do it,” Strout, 34, said from his barnyard Wednesday. “This qualifies as an agricultural job.”

Strout said the state has a “right to farm” law and as long as the Department of Agriculture determines it is a farming plan, he can proceed with the project.

“The town can’t stop me; the Department of Agriculture will oversee it and that’s the guidelines the project will go by,” he said.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection earlier had approved the location as an agricultural “landfarm” operation and as one not requiring a permit or a license, geologist Michael White, who was hired by C.N. Brown, told town planners Tuesday night. Approval was based on site analysis, including distances of the site from well water or surface water.

In the 5-0 vote, the Planning Board said the plan falls under the commercial industrial ordinance adopted by voters in 1993.

Planners also said the proposed operation is a major project, not a minor one for the town.

The vote sets in motion a permitting process to be completed through the code enforcement officer and the Planning Board by a geologist for South Paris-based C.N. Brown Co., and Strout.

Some residents of the West Ridge Road gathered Monday night following a special town meeting to voice their objections to the project, Planning Board member Sam Jencks said. Concerns included the slope of the land and the depth of the existing ground water on site.

Strout, whose father James Strout Sr. unsuccessfully proposed a low-level nuclear waste dump at the farm in 1991, said the state Department of Environmental Protection is heavily involved.

“It’s a practice they’ve done quite a bit — treating contaminated soil,” he said. “I’m well assured that there won’t be an issue with it. DEP has got guidelines. They’re putting in test wells to check the ground water. I think they’ve got their bases covered.”

DEP project manager Andrew Flint said the soil at the former C.N. Brown Co. is mildly or lightly contaminated from leaking gasoline tanks dating back to the mid-1980s. The contaminated soil remains in the ground at the former gas station, he said.

“There is contamination going back as far as 1985,” Flint said. “The plan is to spread a thin layer, 6 inches deep, on approximately five acres.”

Rocks on the land would be removed it would be tilled, introducing air into the soil. Nutrients with a carbon source, such as cow manure, and lime would be added to the mix. The idea is that bacteria existing naturally in the soil would break down the petroleum and render the soil clean, Flint said.

“The bacteria will digest petroleum if given the right conditions,” Flint said. “What they really want is oxygen and some other nutrients along with the oxygen that they can’t get where they are buried in Athens and they would be able to get in this landfarming process. Soil bacteria do the work.”

He said C.N. Brown is responsible for the contamination and Strout is participating as the land owner. Flint said wet weather this summer and anticipated wet weather in the coming weeks will move the project, if it is approved, into next summer.

“We believe the risks are extremely small,” Flint said.

White, C.N. Brown’s geologist, told the board that the state Department of Agriculture considers the project agricultural land use.

Jencks and the four other Planning Board members, including Chairman David Turcotte, said they disagreed with White. The land on which the contaminated soil would be spread could not be used for two years and could potentially be a landfarming site in perpetuity, they said.

“Yes, it’s a farm, but when you bring in hazardous material, that changes the complexion of the farming,” planner Robert Mercer said. “Now it’s a farm-slash-dump site. It’s contaminated soil. You’re bringing crap on perfectly good land.”

Planner Ken Lexier agreed, saying the project clearly is commercial activity, not agricultural, but he added that once the ordinance is applied and if project passes muster, the Planning Board will be obliged to grant the project a permit.

“If they meet the standards in the process, no matter how we fell about this ‘crap’ that’s coming from outside, we have to give them a permit,” Lexier said. “We can have a public hearing and let the citizens of the town of Cornville express their concerns and if they meet the criteria, I’d gladly sign the permit.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

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