WILTON – The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is moving forward with fines and other steps it hopes will pressure two private companies to finish removing asbestos from a demolition site on Depot Street.

Because the site’s cleanup already has been delayed for nearly a year, however, the state agency also is preparing to take over the asbestos removal if the companies’ owners fail to act in the near future, according to Samantha Depoy-Warren, spokeswoman for the agency.

Meanwhile, a long list of violations and other problems tied to the demolition site still hinder these ongoing attempts by the state agency to reach an agreement with the owners, she said.

One of the principal owners, Ryan Byther, was convicted recently on a theft charge involving his work on an unrelated building project, Depoy-Warren said. His conviction and subsequent jail sentence has made resolving the asbestos removal in Wilton even harder, she said.

Byther, 36, of Scarborough, was sentenced late last month to six months in jail for stealing $50,000 from American Legion Post 56 in York in connection with his work as a general contractor hired by the group, according to the state Attorney General’s Office.

Byther is the general contractor who remains primarily responsible for the Wilton demolition project, which already has been cited for many violations by state and federal agencies, Depoy-Warren said. He was working on the demolition project under the company name Downeast Construction, which is among several company names Byther associates himself with on various projects, she said.

Before the recent conviction of Byther, the DEP started working with the Attorney General’s Office to seek a consent agreement for the asbestos removal project. That process would consist of Byther and the owner of the other responsible company, Wilton Recycling LLC, settling their previous fines tied to the demolition project and voluntarily cleaning up the contaminated site.

Wilton Recycling LLC owns the demolition site and Downeast Contruction purchased the salvage rights, which are tied to selling materials from the demolition project.

Depoy-Warren noted that the consent agreement is the final step before the agency takes over the asbestos removal and brings the owners to court to recover the cost. She added that the agency spent about 12 months trying to avoid litigation, because it can complicate the cleanup process further.

Byther has not returned requests for comment from the Morning Sentinel over the past 12 months. Michael Whipple, the Portland attorney who represented him during the recent trial York County Superior Court, said Thursday that Byther will begin serving his jail sentence in late June.

The attorney said that he represented Byther only in the York County case. Whipple declined to comment on the Wilton site, and Byther didn’t respond to attempts to contact him this week.

Byther and the principal owner of Wilton Recycling LLC, Adam Mack, previously cooperated with the DEP’s initial efforts to remove the harmful, cancer-causing building material found at the complex of vacant manufacturing buildings on Depot Street.

A state-licensed cleanup last fall removed hazardous materials from piles of debris scattered among the partially demolished buildings. Depoy-Warren said the DEP didn’t take over the project earlier because the remaining asbestos was secured inside the buildings and the site was fenced off.

The initial cleanup stalled in August. Mack has told the DEP he is seeking additional financing to resume the cleanup, Depoy-Warren said. Mack, a former Republican state representative for Standish, has not returned requests for comment in recent months.

Both Downeast Construction and Wilton Recycling LLC face fines after the DEP accused them of breaking asbestos removal laws tied to the initial demolition work at the Wilton site.

The companies are accused of breaking Maine laws, with the alleged violations happening before a federal agency reported July 19 that construction workers and emergency responders may have been exposed to dangerously high levels of asbestos at the site.

Byther voluntarily pulled his workers from the demolition site after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration reported finding high levels of asbestos.

OSHA also continues to seek payment of $154,200 in fines for numerous workplace safety violations cited against Downeast Construction, according to William Coffin, the federal labor agency’s area director in Maine.

Coffin declined to comment on how Byther’s recent conviction affects payment of fines owed to OSHA, saying the agency has achieved its primary goal of ensuring people were no longer working in unsafe conditions at the Wilton site.

Work at the site, which formerly housed Forster Mill, has been stalled since last fall. In March, Wilton residents also voted to keep the town from taking ownership of the contaminated parcel, which owed about $4,000 in unpaid property taxes and interest.

Bob Rickett, whose asbestos removal company handled the initial cleanup, said this week he is pursuing a lawsuit against Byther and Mack. He said they still owe $75,000 to his Abatement Professionals company for the initial removal.

Depoy-Warren said this week that the DEP will work in the coming weeks to reach a deal with Mack and Byther. She would not give a timetable for when the agency would intervene at the site, saying the consent agreement process should be finished “within the next few weeks,” regardless of Byther’s recent conviction.

According to an attorney general’s news release about the unrelated theft conviction, Byther told American Legion officials he was an experienced professional fundraiser who could manage their $2 million fundraising campaign for a building project in early 2008.

During the trial, state prosecutors showed that Byther had no such experience and never had been licensed as a professional fundraiser in Maine, the release states.

Byther never raised any funds for the group. He instead spent a $50,000 retainer they paid him on his other business pursuits and expenses, including the Prost Tap House and Club Onyx, a bar and nightclub that he opened in June 2008 in Portland’s Old Port district, and that failed several months later, the release states.

He was sentenced to five years of incarceration with all but six months suspended, the release states, adding he faces a three-year probation period and was ordered to pay $50,000 in restitution, along with other conditions.

David F. Robinson — 861-9287

[email protected]