In the final week of May, a team from Ransom Consulting, an environmental engineering firm with an office in Portland, was combing through areas of concern on the 33 acres known in Wiscasset as the Mason Station peninsula.
The firm collected soil, soil vapor, and water samples; conducted hazardous material inventories of the maintenance building and pump houses for the former Mason Station plant; and dug test pits in the northern portion of the peninsula, formerly a landfill and coal-fill area.
The property off Birch Point Road is one of the most inquired-about in Wiscasset, Town Manager Marian Anderson said. Following in-depth environmental testing for potential hazardous material and contaminants on the town-owned Mason Station parcels, Wiscasset will be one step closer to instituting a plan for its redevelopment, she said.
“It appears from the records there’s been a lot of stop and go,” Anderson said of the redevelopment of the property, which has sat vacant since the failure of Mason Station LLC’s Point East Maritime Village development. “Our plan now is to go.”
The Phase II Environmental Site Assessment was funded through the Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission’s Brownfields Assessment Program, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-funded program for the study of sites where redevelopment may be hampered by the potential presence of hazardous materials or contaminants.
Ransom completed a Phase I assessment of the town-owned lots in February, and determined the soil, groundwater, and soil vapor in certain areas may contain pollutants. A Phase II assessment was recommended to determine if remediation or mitigation would be needed to eliminate potential health and environmental risks, according to the Phase I report.
The results may be available in a matter of weeks, said Stephen Dyer, lead project manager for Ransom Consulting.
The Mason Station power plant was constructed in 1940 by Central Maine Power Co. as an oil- and coal-fired power plant; in the 1960s the use of coal was phased out and the plant was fueled by oil until it ceased power production in 1984. The plant was deactivated in 1991.
CMP carved off a portion of the property for a substation and switch yard and sold the plant and remaining acreage to Florida Power and Light in 1999. Four years later, in 2003, Mason Station LLC purchased the property with plans to develop it for residential and industrial purposes.
Wiscasset approved Mason Station LLC’s 85-lot subdivision, known as Point East Maritime Village, in 2005. The company’s plans called for single-family homes, five condominium buildings, and six commercial units within the condominium buildings. The former power plant was slated to become a mixed-use facility with a marina and a boat repair facility.
Two houses were built on the property, with the foundation laid for a third, before development stalled. Taxes on the 85 lots, which amount to $150,000 annually, according to information from the Wiscasset Office of Planning and Development, went unpaid. Liens were placed on the properties in 2009.
In 2012, Wiscasset foreclosed on the majority of lots in the development, with the exception of five lots known to contain asbestos and the Mason Station plant itself, and filed suit for the collection of $846,618.67 in back taxes.
The lawsuit was appealed by Mason Station LLC and languished for the next three years in court before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court’s May 2015 judgment, which firmly established town ownership of the majority of Mason Station LLC parcels and ordered the developer to pay Wiscasset back taxes.
Since the closure of the Mason Station power plant, there have been several environmental assessments of the peninsula. Several remediation plans were developed that were never carried out, according to the Phase I report.
According to the testing that had already been conducted, soil and groundwater in certain areas were found to contain coal, material with asbestos in it, petroleum particles, and heavy metals. The ash ponds used for wastewater collection were also found to contain heavy metals and harmful chemical compounds.
Remediation efforts were undertaken before the Point East developments stalled and hazardous waste and materials in the southern portion of the property, which contains the houses, were cleaned up to the satisfaction of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
However, remediation and closure plans developed in 2006 for the ash ponds on the site, and for the area used as a landfill, were never carried out.
Wiscasset was careful not to assume ownership of lots with significant environmental issues, Anderson said. According to a 2013 report from GEI Consultants, the estimated cost of remediation and cleanup for the Mason Station power plant alone was $6.9 million to $10.9 million.
Despite the environmental cleanup that is believed to be needed for the Mason Station properties, there is strong interest from developers, which includes interest in the Mason Station plant, Anderson said.
Realtor Sherri Dunbar, of Tim Dunham Realty, was instructed to aggressively pursue the sale of the Mason Station lots following the Supreme Court’s decision.
In March, Wiscasset selectmen unanimously accepted an offer from Peregrine Consulting for the two houses on the property, the first properties to be listed. Peregrine Consulting President David Stapp is also president and founder of Peregrine Turbine Technologies, which is working to develop a highly efficient turbine engine.
According to Dunbar, the town expects to close on the offer from Peregrine in June following the completion of the Phase II assessment.
While Wiscasset does not currently own the plant, future ownership is “not out of the realm of possibility,” Anderson said. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins has pledged to help Wiscasset find funds for the needed environmental cleanup, Anderson said.
The use of the Brownfields Assessment Program to aid in the redevelopment of the Mason Station properties is “extremely exciting,” said Mary Ellen Barnes, Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission executive director.
The environmental assessments conducted at Mason Station are a reflection of the partnership that exists between the planning commission and Lincoln County municipalities, Barnes said.
The redevelopment plan for the Mason Station property has always stalled because the town has never fully known the obstacles to redevelopment, Anderson said. “It’s been hurry up and wait for a long time,” Anderson said.
With the good work done through the regional planning commission, Wiscasset will be in a position to move forward with plans for the property, Anderson said. “Selectmen are committed to moving forward,” she said. “Our plan is a plan of progress.”