DEP tells Thorndike to move salt pile or face fines

Selectman cooperating but says relocation will cost money
By Ethan Andrews | Mar 15, 2019
Source: Google Street View An access road to Thorndike's municipal salt and sand storage area crosses over Hall Brook, foreground. Maine Department of Environmental Protection says salt has been running down the hill into the brook for more than two years.

Belfast — The state Department of Environmental Protection is threatening to fine the town of Thorndike for an uncovered salt pile that has been seeping into a nearby brook for more than two years.

In a Feb. 14 notice of violation, DEP cited complaints dating to July 2016, starting with an anonymous tip that the salt and sand pile at 95 Unity Road (Route 220) was not covered and salt was running into Hall Brook. Inspections and subsequent testing by DEP confirmed the problem.

The salt and sand pile lies just north of Thorndike Village near an electrical substation. Hall Brook runs just south of the pile. The brook passes under Route 220 and empties into Half Moon Stream, which curves behind the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association fairgrounds, winds through Unity, where it is called Sandy Stream, and eventually empties into Unity Pond.

DEP classifies both Hall Brook and Half Moon Stream as Class A water bodies, the second-highest of four classifications — AA is the highest.

First Selectman Larry Ward told DEP officials at the time that he understood the town to be exempted from the requirement to cover the pile, according to a history of events in the notice of violation. The department countered that the town is not exempt from complying with the state Pollution Control law.

According to the notice of violation, the town attempted to cover the pile in October 2016, but salt continued to run into the nearby brook. In April 2017, DEP fielded complaints from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and a private citizen that the migrating salt could harm threatened and endangered species downstream from the pile.

Testing by DEP found salt contamination in Hall Brook and Half Moon Stream. The department concluded that the final resolution "should include monetary penalties as part of a civil penalty action" and said a prompt response and full and timely compliance would be considered when determining the amount of the fine.

Responding to an inquiry from The Republican Journal, Enid Mitnick of DEP's Bureau of Water Quality Control said the notice of violation is the first of several steps and the town can still avoid a fine if officials address the problem. So far, she said, the town is making a good faith effort.

"Should the town not come up with a plan then, yes, the next step to enforcement would be a consent agreement with a potential for penalties," she said.

Under the terms of the notice, selectmen must submit a plan and schedule for addressing the pollution by March 29 and implement the approved plan by May 31.

Speaking on March 15, First Selectman Ward was optimistic that the town could avoid a fine by cooperating with DEP.

"We obviously don't intend to be a problem for them," he said. "They hold the winning hand."

However, the solution is likely to be expensive, he said.

The land under the salt and sand pile belongs to the estate of the late Laurel Drew, and Ward said attempts to buy it have been unsuccessful. Selectmen are planning to move the pile "up the road" to a piece of land that would be owned by the town. He stopped short of saying where or whether the new site lies north or south of the current one.

Ward said there wasn't time to draft an official request for the annual town meeting, which is this Saturday, March 16. He anticipated calling for a special town meeting later in the year and said he has only "ballpark figures" for how much it will cost to relocate the pile, and cover it if necessary.

"Frankly we'd be fools not to do this right and put up a shed," he said.

Thorndike's municipal salt and sand pile on Route 220 has been seeping into a nearby brook for more than two years, according to a recent notice of violation from the Department of Environmental Protection. (Photo by: Ethan Andrews)
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