Representatives of Central Maine Power proposed to the City Council, at its Jan. 6 meeting, to move three utility poles from the southwest side to the northeast side of Washington Street to make room for cleanup and potential redevelopment of a contaminated property.

The council asked the company to come back with information on other options, including burying a section of wires and upgrading to three-phase power.

Currently, lines carrying power from Bridge Street down the northeast side of Washington Street cross the roadway to poles on the southwest side of the street, and run along the contaminated property to be remediated at 12-28 Washington St.

One of those poles serves a block of buildings on High Street. That pole and a second one are situated in an area that will be excavated to remove contaminated soil. A third existing pole will be too close to a new building that owners Eunice Palmer and her daughter Diane Bergey plan to build on the site.

As Central Maine Power is a former owner of the property, it is also involved in the remediation efforts.

CMP's plan

Steve Cookson, a CMP line supervisor, explained the proposed reconfiguration plan to the council. Rather than crossing the lines that serve Main Street to the southwest side of the street and back to the northeast side, the company proposes to run them down the length of the northeast side by adding two poles on that side. In addition, power lines would run from one of those new poles, at the corner of the Belfast Skate Park, to two new poles at the rear of the Palmer family's property to feed High Street buildings.

Councilor Eric Sanders asked if CMP would consider burying the power lines at this time, which he said would be ideal both aesthetically and for the long-term goal of revitalizing the area.

"That is an option, but a very expensive option," Cookson said. Not only would it be expensive for CMP, he said, but for customers who would be required to upgrade their meters to accept underground service.

Councilor Michael Hurley suggested burying only the portion of power line that would run down the northeast side of Washington Street in the area where new poles were proposed and then running the line back up to the pole that serves Main Street.

Cookson said that would be possible and would not require any customers to upgrade their meters, but because it would still be an additional expense to CMP, he would have to take the request back to the company to make a decision.

He asked if the city would consider assisting by digging and filling in the three-foot-wide by three-foot-deep trench needed to bury the line, and City Manager Joe Slocum said the Public Works department would be available for that work.

Bergey, who attended the meeting, said she would prefer underground lines because overhead lines would be directly visible from the second-floor windows of the building she and her mother plan to build. She also asked that CMP consider burying the line from Belfast Skate Park to the back of their property.

Abutting property owner John Scully of 30 Washington St. also addressed the council.

"I think if CMP were to view the work as an aesthetic issue as well and try to accommodate the cost issues into it, hopefully we could reach an agreement that is long-term and focuses on good aesthetic values and also function," he said. "That is my goal and desire, because we are direct neighbors of that space."

The council discussed the possibility of upgrading that line from single-phase to three-phase, which would allow Main Street property owners to install elevators, coolers or other high-power features in their buildings. Cookson said doing so would double the cost of the work.

Nevertheless, he said he would bring the council information regarding that alternative as well as the option of laying conduit for a three-phase line at the time the single-phase lines are possibly buried, so that three-phase could be strung through in the future without having to dig again.

Cookson said he would have answers to the council's questions at the next council meeting, Jan. 20.

Remediation plans proceeding slowly

The Palmer family, also owners of Trustworthy Hardware on Main Street, have been working with the city's brownfields program through which an environmental assessment was completed as a first step toward possible redevelopment of the Washington Street property.

That assessment, conducted by Ransom Consulting, found asbestos and lead paint in the two buildings, and coal tar residue in the soil around a former coal storage bunker used when the property was owned by CMP.

City Planner Wayne Marshall said Palmer and Bergey are working with the Department of Environmental Protection to try to obtain a $250,000 loan toward the cost of demolishing the buildings. Central Maine Power has committed to cleaning up the contaminated soil; that cost is estimated between $800,000 and $1.5 million, according to Marshall.

Gerry Mirable, environmental compliance manager at CMP, responded to a question at the council meeting about the cleanup timeline, saying the scope of work has not yet been agreed upon with DEP, so they cannot yet put the work out to bid. He said their initial projected cleanup timeline of January through March is turning out to be "wildly optimistic."

The Palmer family and CMP are participating in DEP's Voluntary Response Action Program, which protects participants from enforcement actions if they "undertake and complete response actions to remove or remedy all known discharges, releases and threatened releases at an identified area of real property in accordance with a voluntary response action plan approved by the commissioner,” or partially clean up the site if the cleanup action protects public health and the environment, according to Maine statute.

According to the DEP's Division of Remediation site database, their VRAP application is under preliminary review as of Jan. 7.