Plans to clean up a contaminated property on Washington Street are delayed indefinitely as Central Maine Power waits for approval from its parent company, New-York based Iberdrola USA.

The property at 12-28 Washington St., currently used as storage for Trustworthy Hardware, was formerly the city's power station. CMP acquired the property in 1921.

When the current owners, Eunice Palmer and her family, decided they wanted to redevelop the property, they worked with the city's brownfields program to get an environmental site assessment done on the property.

The assessment revealed common contaminants lead paint and asbestos in two buildings, as well as coal tar residue in the soil and groundwater around a cement bunker where a coal-gassification plant had been housed and under Washington Street. City Planner Wayne Marshall told the City Council coal tar residue must be removed because it contains carcinogens, can leach into groundwater, and can migrate off site.

Working with the Department of Environmental Protection through its Voluntary Response Action Program, CMP agreed to assume responsibility for removal and storage of the contaminated material. City Planner Wayne Marshall said in January the cost to the power company could range from $800,000 to about $1.5 million.

Although CMP representatives initially implied cleanup could begin as early as April, the timeline is now uncertain.

Marshall, Economic Development Director Thomas Kittredge, representatives from CMP, representatives from DEP, the property owners and Ransom Consulting met to discuss scheduling March 16. Because the cleanup process would involve 30 to 40 trucks per day moving material into and out of the site and up Main Street, for a four- to six-week period, city staff urged CMP to do the work before or after summer. If it is done in the fall, they said, it would need to be completed in time for Washington Street to be repaved.

However, a CMP official indicated they may not be ready to move forward by fall, either. He attributed the uncertainty to the internal process for getting approval. CMP would need to obtain "funding determination" from its parent company.

"It is not about whether or not they will go forward," Marshall said, "But they are trying to get the best price."

Councilor Eric Sanders said, "They can slow this process down — because it's an environmental disaster they don't want to pay for forever," and questioned if there are any time frames they can be held to.

Marshall responded he had confidence DEP will put pressure on the company and that EPA will back up DEP.

He said it is now looking like the project will get started sometime between January and April 2016, but there is still a chance it could happen in the fall.

In the meantime, the city will be doing some additional testing. Though no coal tar residue was found in test pits in the skate park across Washington Street, soil testing will be conducted on the water treatment facility property just beyond the skate park within the next few weeks.

The extent of contamination under Washington Street cannot be determined until the edge of the property is dug up, which will reveal whether there is a plume extending beyond it.

Marshall said if contamination is found to extend under Washington Street, CMP will be expected to remove it at its own cost or provide the city with an escrow account from which to pay extra costs associated with cleanup.

Councilor Mike Hurley questioned how the property owners are being affected by the delay. Marshall said they will be closing shortly on a $200,000 loan from EPA, but have not been ready to start cleanup of their buildings to date. He also pointed out that though there may be a delay, the owners benefit from CMP bearing the cleanup cost.

Once CMP is ready to begin cleanup, Marshall said he would recommend closing the skate park and closing a portion of Washington Street. During cleanup, Marshall said, "there may be noxious fumes in the area, but they won't be hazardous." Kittredge said the city and CMP would hold public hearings to keep the community informed about the projects and communicate any public health risks.