Updated: Asbestos abatement completed; mill’s demolition to continue
Editor's note: This story has been updated to add comments made by the mill complex's owner, Adam Mack.
WILTON - Calling it "an impressive clean up," in what was formerly considered the worst case of an asbestos hazard at a site in Maine, the Forster Mill's demolition can now proceed as planned.
The state's Department of Environmental Protection officials inspected the mill on Friday and deemed it ready for continued deconstruction by its owner Adam Mack of Portland. Mack and former contractor Ryan Blyther of Scarborough, both involved in the demolition that created the asbestos hazard, will be facing fines.
"The DEP's walk through last Friday of the Wilton site revealed an impressive clean-up is complete and the environmental liability has been lifted. There were a few minor things that were noted as we walked through that were expected to be resolved quickly," said Samantha Depoy-Warren, a DEP spokesperson.
At the inspection, a separate boiler house does still contain asbestos, but it is considered stable, she added.
Spring of 2011, Mack started the process to tear down the building complex at 515 Depot Street to make way for either selling the 12-acre lot with stream frontage or redevelop it himself. Then, on July 22, 2011, tests conducted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration confirmed unhealthy levels of airborne asbestos at the demolition site. Inhaling asbestos fibers is believed to increase one's risk for cancer and other respiratory ailments.
Work at the site was voluntarily stopped immediately and OSHA reported its findings to the state's DEP, which has been working with Mack to get the asbestos removed before work to raze the massive building complex can be completed.
"This is one of the worst asbestos cases our Lead and Asbestos Hazard Prevention Program staff say they have ever seen," Depoy-Warren said earlier. Concern over lack of action over the last year led the DEP to call in the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which has a response team for cleanups such as the one at the Wilton mill site.
This summer, a remediation plan with deadlines was imposed by the state's DEP to remove the asbestos material throughout the 110-year-old building.
Mack hired Abatement Professionals of Westbrook, which completed the abatement work to the satisfaction of the DEP.
"From the moment the department was brought into this matter one year ago, we committed to the community we would ensure the site was appropriately abated to protect public and environmental health and through a combination of our technical assistance and enforcement action, we have delivered on that promise," Depoy-Warren said today.
The DEP will continue to pursue separate enforcement actions involving financial penalties against both Mack and Byther.
"Mr. Mack and his counsel are working cooperatively with us and we are optimistic a consent agreement will be reached. As our priority in the process is always corrective action that brings a site into compliance, the fact that Mr. Mack ultimately stepped up as the responsible party and took responsibility will be considered favorably in our negotiations," Depoy-Warren said.
Mack said Wednesday that he intends to move ahead with the mill's demolition, but does not have a completion date for the work as of yet.
"I don't have exact time line, but we're working on a plan to get it as safely and as cost effectively as possible to get it done," Mack said. "We're going to move ahead with it," he added.
Blyther of Downeast Construction Co. is currently serving a six-month jail sentence after a jury convicted him of stealing $50,000 from American Legion Post 56 in York. He is probably looking at five-figure DEP penalties and six-figure OSHA penalties, she said, and if a consent agreement can't be reached with him, it could be pursued through the courts.
"Now, the safe dismantling of this historic site can move forward again, which ultimately will allow either Mr. Mack or the town to pursue redevelopment," she added.