Former Maskers site assessment finds contaminated soils, asbestos materials in buildings

By Ben Holbrook | Jan 13, 2014
Photo by: Ben Holbrook

Belfast — A recently completed Phase II site assessment of the former Belfast Maskers property at 45 Front St. found low levels of petroleum and metal contaminants in the soils, as well as asbestos materials and lead paint in the buildings.

The findings of the recently completed site assessment, which involved taking soil samples and completing a hazardous materials inventory for the buildings, was completed by Portland-based Ransom Consulting in December 2013.

Peter Sherr and Aaron Martin of Ransom Consulting attended a Jan. 7 council meeting to present the findings of the assessment and explain what the next steps are for the city if Belfast wishes to develop the property in the future.

Before launching into the results of the Phase II site assessment, Martin explained that a Phase I site assessment, completed in November 2013, determined the property had been used in the past as the site for the city's solid waste dump; as a bulk fuel facility; for working waterfront activities; and by the Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad.

Because of those previous uses, Ransom Consulting found the soils contained coal, low concentrations of metals and low concentrations of petroleum products, which Martin said pose little to no risk to residents.

He noted the contaminants were wide spread throughout the site.

Martin said an inventory of the two buildings on the property, the former Maskers Theater building and a storage building, contained asbestos materials and lead-based painted surfaces. The hazardous materials inventory also found polychlorinated biphenyl-containing light ballasts and mercury-containing fluorescent light tubes inside the buildings, according to Ransom Consulting's report.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency defines polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) as belonging to “a broad family of man-made organic chemicals known as chlorinated hydrocarbons.” They were manufactured from 1929 until 1979 and were commonly used in industrial and commercial applications, according to the EPA.

Martin said the estimated cleanup costs for the site would involve capping the contaminated soils either with pavement, one foot of gravel, a raised landscaping bed or other material, and having a contractor come in to remove the hazardous materials from the buildings.

The report from Ransom Consulting also recommended installing a vapor barrier or passive sub-slab depressurization system with any new structures built on the site. Vapor mitigation systems are similar to radon mitigation systems and are easily installed and incorporated into the design of new building foundations, according to Ransom Consulting's report.

To pay for the cleanup at the site, Economic Development Director Thomas Kittredge said the city will apply for a $200,000 grant from the U.S. EPA. The city would need to provide a 20 percent match to secure the grant. He noted the match does not have to be strictly in the form of cash and could include in-kind contributions.

The application is due by Jan. 22 and the city held a public hearing on Tuesday, Jan. 14 to give residents the chance to comment on the environmental site assessment and the cleanup of the property. Following the public hearing, the council was scheduled to vote on authorizing officials to apply for a clean-up grant.

Before discussion ended, Councilor Mike Hurley stressed the city does not have any concrete plans in place for the property.

In other business

Councilors approved the final reading of amendment eight to a contract rezoning agreement, which will allow Front Street Shipyard to construct the nearly 22,000-square-foot Building 6 adjacent to Building 5 on the Front Street parking lot. The council also approved amendments to the Master Boundary Agreement that addresses the use of relief walkways to direct Harbor Walk traffic around the travel lift pier when it is being used.

City officials approved a request from the Harbormaster for 2014 harbor fees. The fees are the same as those approved last year, with the exception of a $50 user fee for each individual approved by the Harbormaster to have a key to operate the fisherman's hoist. A request to charge a $60 fee to store a canoe, kayak or small rowboat on the racks located on the beach at the Boathouse was rejected after councilors determined the charge was too expensive.

Maine Farmland Trust received approval to host the 2014 Maine Fare event at the Boathouse on June 20. The organization also received a reduced rate of $450 to use the Boathouse during the event.

The council approved a request to outfit a new cruiser at the Belfast Police Department at a cost of $3,000. The funds to outfit the cruiser will be taken from the city's undesignated fund balance.

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Ben Holbrook
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Ben Holbrook is a reporter for The Republican Journal covering general news.

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