WARREN, Maine – Residents of Warren resisted the seizure of an abandoned shooting range for fear the property takeover would make the town responsible for cleaning up nearly 27,000 tons of carpet-like material that has been left on the site.
But with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s latest efforts to remove material that will expire at the end of the year with little results, residents are losing confidence that the state agency will succeed in cleaning up even a part of the site.
Residents again voted to waive the foreclosure of the 70-acre property on Route 90 at a special town meeting Wednesday night by a vote of 21-10. But members of the selection committee and a group of residents said they would like to convene a committee to look at the city’s options to clean up the site if it takes possession.
The mountains of carpet-like material came around 1998, when the DEP allowed the range owner to import the materials from Auburn. Steamship Navigation has claimed it will use the material as berms to prevent bullets from leaving the property.
But the berm project was never completed, and soon after the materials arrived, the owners apparently disappeared.
The DEP took control of the site by court order in 2001 and has been looking for ways to remove the materials ever since. A previous attempt to remove them failed in 2017, when a contract with a Massachusetts firm ended with the removal of far less material than expected.
DEP renewed its exit efforts in 2018, ultimately awarding a contract to Farley and Sons Inc., a local contractor, and Dragon Cement. This contract expires on Friday, although no material has been removed from the site since August 2019 due to handling and processing issues at Dragon Cement. Only 16 tonnes of material were removed under the contract.
DEP will re-issue a request for proposals for material removal in the first quarter of 2022, DEP spokesperson David Madore said.
“There were a number of what seemed like good ideas, good efforts, but nothing came of it,” said Doug Pope, a former member of the selection committee.
Some in Warren have lost faith in the DEP and think the city should take matters into their own hands.
“I don’t believe a word from the DEP’s mouth,” said Ed LaFlamme, a former member of the selection committee. “I think we should start cleaning up the problem.”
“I think the city has a responsibility, even though we didn’t create it, I think you have a responsibility to your citizens not to let this hazardous waste seep into the ground,” said Alvin Chase.
The city should own the property to apply for grants and take other steps to clean up the property. But for decades, the city has received legal opinions advising against seizing and owning property.
“DEP created this problem and I say they are doing it. It’s not our problem to get out of it, ”said John Crabtree, Selectboard member.
The material is highly flammable and the risk of fire was cited as a major concern.
Chase, Pope and LaFlamme were among a group of people on Wednesday night who said they would be part of a committee to at least start looking at the city’s options with the property.
A similar idea was launched last year, although few people expressed interest in joining the committee at that time. Pope, who also signed up to serve on the committee last year, feels this latest effort is different.
“This is just one of those intractable problems that need to be resolved. If people with good intentions don’t step up and try to put in an effort, then nothing will happen, ”Pope said. “Everyone is really interested and sincerely wants this issue resolved. “