HANCOCK — The town of Hancock is applying for $400,000 in federal grants to clean up pollution on the former 151-acre site of the Hancock Ellsworth Tannery.
Among the ideas proposed for the uncontaminated portion of the property at the juncture of routes 1 and 182 is affordable housing, according to the application filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Gary Hunt, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said the town took the property over for back taxes from TT Corp., LLC, of Hermon.
Hunt said TT Corp., owned by Derek Thomas, failed to make a timely payment according to a repayment plan Thomas had worked out with the town.
“He defaulted on one payment, so the agreement ended,” Hunt said.
Hunt said the town then became aware of the possibility of applying for clean-up grants from the Environmental Protection Agency.
“The town of Hancock is not interested in owning this in perpetuity,” Hunt said. “The town would like to get it back on the tax rolls as something worthwhile, not as an eyesore.”
The squat, cinder block, 71,370-square-foot structure was built in the early 1950s and ceased operations as a tannery in the early 1970s.
Stella Johnston, 90, of Hancock, now a resident at Seaport Village Healthcare in Ellsworth, said she handled the payroll for the then-owner for about 10 years.
“There was a payroll of well over 200,” Johnston said. “There were huge machines in there and 10 or 12 different processes before the hides were ready to ship out.”
Hunt said the town held a public hearing on the grant proposal Dec. 2 and advertised it in the Bangor Daily News.
He said the town was working against a Dec. 18 deadline to submit the application and did not have enough time to advertise in The American, which the town usually does.
Two businesses — Tracy Brothers Construction Inc. of Hancock and Dig-It Equipment in Hampden — already have expressed an interest in the tannery building.
Tracy Brothers proposed spending $750,000 to renovate the structure for office space and to store its equipment.
Tracy Brothers also said it has an interest in developing additional acreage.
Dig-It, owned by Derek Thomas, the prior owner of the property, proposed using the structure for its equipment rental business and to produce wood pellets, an enterprise Thomas said could create 30 new jobs.
If approved, each $200,000 grant must be matched by $40,000 each in local funding.
Tracy Brothers has offered to pick up the cost should it be approved for the project, Hunt said.
But any new enterprise hinges on environmental remediation of the site.
The property is the largest piece of property in Hancock deemed to be a Brownfield, which is a former industrial or commercial site where future use is affected by environmental contamination.
“The site is a health hazard, a blight on our community and an impediment to future economic growth,” the town stated in its grant application.
Town officials have divided the property into three parcels to make it more manageable for resale.
The first parcel is 3.6 acres and includes the former tannery building as well as the land that connects to Tannery Road off Route 182 and behind the Tideway Market.
The second parcel is 13.8 acres and has 250 feet of frontage on Route 1.
The third parcel is 134 acres and does not appear to be affected by the tannery wastes.
The most recent environmental assessments were conducted by Campbell Environmental Group of Falmouth.
The cost of the assessment was covered by a Brownfields Community Wide Assessment Grant obtained by the Hancock County Planning Commission.
According to the grant application, the contaminants found in the first parcel included asbestos, hundreds of fluorescent light ballasts containing poly chlorinated biphenyl on the floor, poly-cyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, other semi-volatile organic compounds and lead and chromium in open trenches within the building.
“Chromium impacted sludge and rotting tannery hides from the 1960s remain within the building, and there are several water-filled pits located in unlit areas of the abandoned structure,” according to the application.
The second parcel contains two former tannery treatment lagoons with volatile organic compounds and semi-volatile organic compounds as well as petroleum contamination in the subsurface that is related to former leaking underground and above-ground storage tanks.
The application stated that fuel oil also is present in the near surface soils as a result of surface dumping.
“Volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds are migrating toward Kilkenny Stream, which flows 1,100 feet and discharges to Kilkenny Cove,” according to the application.
Kilkenny Cove is a 212-acre marine estuary where a significant tidal flat was historically used for shell fish harvesting.
The cove is currently closed for shellfish harvesting due to contaminants that were previously released from the tannery and other Brownfields.
“People are frequently seen on the tidal flat, harvesting shellfish despite the closure,” according to the application.
Frenchman Bay Conservancy said it was interested in obtaining a conservation easement to promote recreational activities and to protect Kilkenny Stream and Meadow Brook.
The Hancock County Planning Commission would manage the grant for the town.
Hunt said the town won’t find out until the spring whether they will be awarded the highly competitive grants.
At that time, he said, the town is likely to entertain proposals from interested parties.