Jul. 22—It's been nearly two years since any of the 27,000-tons of carpet-like material were last removed from a site in Warren under the state's most recent attempt to clean up an abandoned rifle range.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection contracted with Farley and Sons Inc. in November of 2018 to remove and haul the plastic carpeting to the Dragon Cement plant in Thomaston where it would be burned for fuel. State officials were hopeful this would be the solution to the decades-long effort to remove as much of the material as possible from the former rifle range off of Route 90 in Warren.
However, only 16 tons were removed and no material has been hauled from the site since August 2019, according to DEP spokesperson David Madore. Removal was halted due to material handling and processing problems at Dragon Cement, Madore said.
While the DEP had hoped more material would have been removed from the site by now, Madore said the current contract for Dragon Cement to receive and burn the material is currently the best prospect. With the contract set to expire at the end of the year, Madore said the DEP is trying to "work through the challenges" while exploring other options.
Madore did not elaborate on how, specifically, the department has been working with the companies to get material moving over the last two years.
"Taking the product to Dragon is still the most cost effective solution for the material," Madore said. "We continue to work with the contractor and Dragon to find a way to move more material."
The mountains of carpet-like material arrived on the site around 1998, when the DEP allowed the owner of the rifle range to bring in the materials from Auburn. Steamship Navigation, which owned the rifle range, claimed the material was going to be used as berms to stop bullets from going off the property.
But the berm project was never completed, and soon after the materials arrived, the property owners seemingly disappeared. Despite years of unpaid property taxes, Warren residents have rejected numerous calls at the annual town meeting for the town to take ownership of the property out of fear they will be financially responsible for the clean-up. The town most recently voted against taking ownership of the property at a meeting in November.
The DEP gained control of the site through a court order in 2001 and has been looking for solutions to remove the materials since. A previous attempt to remove the materials fizzled out in 2017, when a contract with a Massachusetts company ended with much less material being removed from the site than anticipated. It is unclear how much material was removed under that contract.
The DEP renewed efforts to find a solution to the removal problem in 2018, ultimately granting the contract to Farley and Sons Inc., a local contractor, and Dragon Cement.
After receiving the necessary permits to burn the material, Dragon began receiving the material during the summer of 2019.
Dragon's burning system was designed to process baled material, Madore said. However, the material coming from the Warren site is loose and "[baling] it at the site would require significant investment," he said.
Madore said the DEP has been working with Dragon and Farley and Sons to get material moving again, however it has been challenging.
"Varying seasonal work schedules and busy times of both parties have made it difficult to make headway on removing carpet, but not for lack of trying, however," Madore said.
It is not clear when removal of the material will resume.
To date, the DEP has only used about $450 of the $250,000 in funding it has left for clean-up of the Warren site, according to Madore.
Madore said the DEP is exploring "other options" though did not specify whether or not the department would seek additional proposals once the current contract with Dragon and Farley and Sons expires at the end of the year.
Attempts to reach Dragon Cement's plant manager Tuesday were unsuccessful. A message for the plant's environmental manager was not returned.