November 26, 2012

Despite toxins, Biddeford incinerator sale to be completed

The discovery of dioxins and PCBs will not derail the city's $6.5 million purchase of the MERC plant for redevelopment.

By Gillian Graham ggraham@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – Despite the discovery of contaminants near Maine Energy Recovery Co.'s incinerator, Biddeford's purchase of the property appears on track to be completed this week.

click image to enlarge

The Maine Energy Recovery Co.'s incinerator in Biddeford.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer

Mayor Alan Casavant said environmental tests revealed dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls on the site of the waste-to-energy incinerator, which will be shut down and dismantled.

City officials and representatives for Casella Waste Systems, the Vermont-based parent company of MERC, are working out final details about what cleanup is needed and who will pay for it. But the level of contamination is not a surprise and will not derail the city's $6.65 million purchase of the downtown property, the mayor said.

"We're still looking to move forward (with the sale)," Casavant said. "The chemicals found can be taken care of."

The original closing date for the sale was Nov. 15. The closing was pushed back to Nov. 30 because city and company officials needed more time to review results of environmental tests on the property, which is next to the Saco River.

The sale will mark the end of the incinerator's presence in the downtown mill district and years of complaints about odor and truck traffic.

The Biddeford City Council voted in July to buy the plant with hopes that its removal will help stimulate economic development.

Casella announced this month that it will close MERC by the end of this year and shift waste processing to a new facility in Westbrook while it seeks approval to send trash to a landfill in Old Town. It also will dismantle the plant.

Tests done on the 8.4-acre MERC property by Cedere Associates of Westbrook showed the presence of PCBs and dioxins. Casavant said that was not a surprise because the plant burned trash and the site was used previously for other industrial purposes.

Biddeford had an "escape clause" in the contract that would have allowed it to back out of the purchase because of the test results, he said.

Casavant said he could not provide any details about cleanup plans because of ongoing negotiations with Casella. Calls and emails to City Manager John Bubier were not returned Monday.

Dioxins and PCBs were found on a half-acre of the property near the river, Casavant said. Both contaminants have been shown to cause cancer and other health problems, 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 around the boiler house likely are from previous industrial activity in the area, according to Cedere Associates' report.

The firm recommends removal of the contamination and cleaning of waste residue from all areas of the property affected by ash from the incinerator and all concrete and asphalt floors.

Casella and the city have applied for approval of the cleanup from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Nick Hodgkins, an oil- and hazardous-waste specialist for the DEP, said the state's Voluntary Response Action Program helps the city and Casella "clarify the liability and assign responsibility" for the remediation. It also protects the parties from enforcement actions if the cleanup plan approved by the DEP is completed.

Also pending with the DEP is Casella's request for state licensing to allow the Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town to accept waste that's now processed in Biddeford. Casella plans to process the waste in Westbrook before taking it to Old Town.

 

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

ggraham@mainetoday.com

Twitter: grahamgillian

 

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