BIDDEFORD – The sale of Maine Energy Recovery Co. will be delayed — again — as city and company officials wait for the state Department of Environmental Protection to approve a plan to remove contaminants from the downtown property.

Environmental tests revealed dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls at the site of the waste-to-energy incinerator, which is to be shut down by the end of the year and dismantled. The contamination is not considered severe enough to disrupt the deal, which had been scheduled to be finalized Friday.

However, the city will not close on the $6.65 million purchase of the property until the city and Casella Waste Systems, MERC’s parent company, have approval under the state’s Voluntary Response Action Program to clean up the site, City Manager John Bubier said.

“We will not close until the VRAP letter is in our hand,” Bubier said. “That’s what both sides have talked about.”

The DEP is unlikely to issue the approval letter this week because review of the remediation plan is not completed, according to a state official.

Samantha DePoy-Warren, spokeswoman for the DEP, said she expects the department “to have a favorable decision in the coming days, which will allow the town to move forward with remediation and hopefully eventual prosperous redevelopment.”

No new closing date has been set.

The city and Casella originally planned to close the deal Nov. 15, but pushed the date back to Nov. 30 while the two parties negotiated a plan to deal with the contaminants. Bubier said work to clean up the site will be done by Casella.

The sale will mark the end of the incinerator’s presence in the downtown mill district, which is being redeveloped for mixed uses.

For years, MERC has drawn complaints about odor and truck traffic. The Biddeford City Council voted in July to buy the plant in the hope that removing it will stimulate economic development.

Casella and the city on Nov. 15 jointly applied for DEP approval of the cleanup plan. The Voluntary Response Action Program helps clarify the liability and assign responsibility for the remediation, while also protecting the city and company from enforcement actions.

Tests done on the 8.4-acre property by Cedere Associates of Westbrook turned up PCBs and dioxins, both of which are known to cause cancer, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Dioxins are released into the environment through a variety of sources, including commercial burning of trash, according to the EPA. The PCBs in the soil at the MERC site likely are from previous industrial activity in the area, according to the Cedere Associates report.

Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Patricia Aho, in a letter to Bubier dated Nov. 29, said the department set a high priority for review of the 1,800-page application for cleanup-plan approval. DePoy-Warren said the letter was sent in response to comments Bubier made about the pace of the review.

“I can appreciate that city officials want to move this along and we’re doing all we appropriately can to facilitate that, but to try to shame the department into making a rush decision is unfair. And the very fact that we are making a decision within days or even a few weeks instead of months is a testament to the timeliness of our review process and the hard work of our staff,” DePoy-Warren said.

Bubier declined to comment on statements from DEP officials.

Calls to Casella Vice President Joe Fusco seeking comment were not returned Thursday.

 

Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

ggraham@mainetoday.com

Twitter: grahamgillian