Brewer News

Cianbro cleans up: Ex-Eastern Fine site major project

6.23.2007 – Cianbro Corp.’s ambitious plan to bring several hundred highly paid workers back to the former Easter Fine Paper site in Brewer has the potential to become one of the region’s most significant economic development endeavors in years.

But first the company will have to complete one of the largest industrial cleanup projects ever attempted in Maine – and in record time, at that.

For more than a century, factories churned out paper products at what now is known as the former Eastern Fine Paper Co. facility. But those industrial operations left a toxic legacy in the soil of the 41-acre site located on the banks of the Penobscot River in South Brewer.

“We’ve found a variety of contaminants there,” said Jean Firth with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. “Over the long history of the site, they have used many different chemicals.”

Ash laden with mercury and other heavy metals is buried on parts of the property. Other areas are contaminated with petroleum that apparently leaked over the years from aboveground tanks and pipes. Other environmental concerns include PCBs, a once common industrial pollutant now banned in the U.S., as well as asbestos and lead.

Cianbro officials have said they hope to have their new facility — a manufacturing center for prefabricated, self-standing building structures known as “modules” — up and running within 10 months. The company predicts the facility will employ about 500 people, twice as many as were employed by Eastern Fine when the mill closed in January 2004.

Firth, who coordinates the DEP’s industrial site cleanup and redevelopment program, known as “Brownfields,” said petroleum is the largest single contaminant on the site. Contaminated soil will likely be removed, while the property will have a deed restriction preventing Cianbro from tapping into groundwater. The facility will be serviced by the city’s public water system.

Overall, the Eastern Fine facility would be one of the largest brownfields projects ever completed in the state. That would make it a significant accomplishment for both economic development and for Maine’s Brownfields program, Firth said.

“This is going to take time given the sheer size of it, and some of it will be done as the development proceeds at the site,” Firth said.

The city of Brewer, working in conjunction with the DEP, recently completed a $350,000 assessment of the site funded through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s brownfields program. D’arcy Main-Boyington, the city’s economic development director, said the city has submitted a remediation plan to the DEP for approval.

The remediation plan will be the subject of a public hearing this Thursday in Brewer.

“We’ve done a huge amount of investigation,” Main-Boyington said. “We are very confident that we do know what is in the ground, where it is and the extent of it in each area.”

Main-Boyington outlined a tentative timeline for work on the site, pending regulatory approvals:

  • Mid-July through fall: Remediation gets up to full speed.
  • Late fall: Several buildings on-site are demolished to make way for manufacturing space.
  • Early winter: The Penobscot River is dredged near the site for a deep-water pier for the barges that would carry the massive modules. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will need to sign off on the dredging plan first.
  • Late winter-early spring: The site is regraded to make room for the manufacturing surface.

Main-Boyington said Cianbro will not be using all of the property immediately, so some cleanup projects likely will be completed after manufacturing has begun. For instance, part of the southern end of the property that contains the most environmental “hot spots” likely will be fenced off and remediated after other areas are completely clean, she said.

Total site cleanup costs are expected to be in the millions of dollars. South Brewer Redevelopment, a limited liability company created by the city to own and operate the mill site, will help funnel state and federal money to the cleanup project. Cianbro is expected eventually to take ownership of the property after those state and federal funds are expended.

Cianbro officials could not be reached for comment Friday. But both Main-Boyington and Firth said that given Cianbro’s record on completing large projects, they are confident that the company can complete the environmental cleanup.

The company already is lining up clients for its modules, providing added incentive to complete the cleanup within the 10-month time frame.

“I think if they are motivated enough they can accomplish most of what they would want to do,” Firth said.

A copyright story from the Bangor Daily News, Saturday, June 23, 2007.