A Portland lawmaker is calling on the state to cancel a contract with a company hired to repaint I-295 bridges after soil tests he commissioned showed elevated lead levels around the Deering Avenue bridge.

But the Maine Department of Transportation said the contractor, Southern Road & Bridge, has performed satisfactorily and that it is “standard operating procedure” to test soils after all of the jobs have been completed.

“We have DOT personnel on-scene,” Maine DOT spokesman Ted Talbot said. “They have met all of the department standards so we don’t feel at all there has been work that has been subpar.”

Rep. Ben Chipman, D-Portland, said it was mid-August when he first noticed paint dust around the work site where Florida-based Southern Road & Bridge was repainting the Deering Avenue bridge over I-295. After seeing dust on the bridge sign and underneath, Chipman said he expressed his concerns about lead paint contamination to the DOT because of the bridge’s location near Deering Oaks park, several ballfields and residential neighborhoods.

Chipman said he was alerted to Southern Road & Bridge’s work in Portland – and about past alleged environmental or safety violations – by members of a labor union that has been critical of the company, which is nonunionized. He first visited the site with former state Sen. Troy Jackson, an Allagash Democrat who is heavily involved in organized labor issues in Maine. Jackson, who is running for the Maine Senate, then worked with another individual to collect samples underneath the bridge and in adjacent areas for analysis by an independent lab.

Chipman said during a news conference Tuesday that all of the samples came back with lead levels well above the health standards of 400 parts per million near playgrounds and 1,200 parts per million in residential areas. The soil analysis, which was conducted in mid-September by Absolute Resource Associates, showed lead levels ranging from 1,900 parts per million to 32,000 parts per million. Lead can affect mental and physical development in children.

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“There’s a ballfield here, there is a middle school, there is Deering Oaks park and residential areas on the other side of the bridge,” Chipman said. “This is a high-traffic area for joggers, runners, bikers, pedestrians. People come here to work and play and live. And this is not the kind of conditions or pollution that anybody should be subjected to here in Portland or anywhere here in the state.”

Chipman urged the DOT to terminate the contract with Southern Road & Bridge, which received a $1.9 million contract to repaint four bridges over I-295 in the Portland area.

“They have proven that they cannot be trusted to do good quality work and it is our taxpayer money that is going to pay them to do shoddy work,” said Chipman, who pointed out that the company has been ordered to pay fines for lead dust violations in Massachusetts. “We should cancel the contract in light of these test results … and they should be held accountable for the pollution that they’ve caused.”

A representative for Southern Road & Bridge directed a call to senior managers at the company, who could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday. But the DOT’s Talbot said Southern Road & Bridge is “highly certified” to do the repainting and lead abatement work.

Southern Road & Bridge, which is headquartered in Tarpon Springs, Florida, won the competitively bid contract to apply new protective coatings to the steel on bridges at Deering Avenue, Preble Street and Forest Avenue, as well as a fourth railroad bridge. The contract requires Southern Road & Bridge to follow federal and state lead abatement requirements, including inspecting the ground and soils around the bridge before and after the work and hiring an environmental firm to conduct ambient air monitoring for lead.

“It is the responsibility of the contractor to test the existing coating to determine the toxic metal content and, based on those results, design and implement the appropriate plans for containment, environmental protection, waste disposal and worker safety,” the original DOT contract proposal states.

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The tested soil samples were taken from areas immediately surrounding the bridge, including from fenced areas that would be inaccessible to most members of the public. Preble Street goes under the highway, carrying motorists, cyclists and pedestrians through the work zone. Work has begun on the Preble Street bridge.

Following Chipman’s initial contact with DOT officials in mid-August, the department’s resident engineer for the I-295 bridge work found “a minimal amount” of small paint chips at the site, likely from clothing or boots worn by workers. No contamination appeared to have traveled off site, Meghan Russo, the DOT’s manager of legislative and constituent services, wrote to Chipman.

“I was told that the contractor still has to perform a final cleanup of the site that is to take place over the next couple of days,” Russo said in August. “They will also be retesting the soils in the area, which is also part of the requirements set forth in the contract. The Resident Engineer is going to continue to monitor this project closely to make sure that it is done to Maine DOT standards. As you know, we maintain high standards for safety and environmental concerns.”

Chipman responded by sending Russo pictures showing rust-colored dust and debris piled up behind the I-295 sign that backs up against the bridge sidewalk. Russo then told Chipman that the DOT could pay for additional clean-up at the site, if it is deemed necessary.

“While we have had Maine DOT engineers and staff overseeing this project performing on-site compliance checks, it was determined that due to the location of the three bridges that are due to be repainted as part of this project, and their close proximity to the traveling public, increased vigilance by the contractor will take place,” Russo wrote. “We have asked that the frequency of the cleanup of the debris associated with this paint removal be increased. The appropriate staff was informed that given the urban setting, additional efforts are warranted and any additional costs associated with this effort is approved and justified if necessary.”

Russo’s responses didn’t satisfy Chipman, who called the DOT’s promise of additional funding “a friendly gesture.”

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“It’s not adequate because the contract requires 100 percent cleanup of this lead paint dust, which they clearly haven’t done,” said Chipman, who is running for one of Portland’s seats in the Maine Senate. “They are being paid to do that. We should not be offering them additional money for something that they were supposed to be doing anyway.”

The DOT contract appears to allow a 50 percent increase in lead concentrations in the soil from pre-work levels. Talbot clarified on Tuesday that Southern Road & Bridge would be obligated to pay for additional cleanup if the post-work tests reveal soils are still contaminated above levels allowed under that contract. The state would only pay if the DOT opted to go beyond the standards set by the contract because the bridges are located in such a heavily used, pedestrian areas.

Chipman and Jackson, however, criticized the DOT for not conducting tests at the site before they did.

“It shouldn’t take a state representative, it shouldn’t take a community going around policing these things,” said Jackson, who also criticized the DOT for hiring the contractor. “The DOT should be making sure that this is done right because it is serious. Lead exposure … should not be taken lightly.”

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH


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