AUGUSTA — An area along the Kennebec River that used to be the site of two mills and needs to be cleaned up from contamination is proposed for a new Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife building and a rejuvenated recreation area.
Gov. Janet Mills requested $39.5 million for the project in her proposed supplemental budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year, but it must receive approval from the Legislature before advancing.
The agency moved to a space on Water Street in Augusta in October, but it has already become “overcrowded” with 100 employees from the Augusta and Bangor branches of the department.
“The new building will consolidate four Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife offices and storage spaces, providing a central location for services, research, staff, equipment and materials, and (it) will create a destination for learning, recreation and commerce on the east side of the Kennebec River,” said Communications Director Mark Latti in a statement.
The main site under consideration is that of the former Statler Tissue Co. mill, on the east side of the Kennebec River. It includes two parcels — one, around 20 acres, owned by the city of Augusta and the other a 4.51-acre lot owned by a private company called AIM Corporation.
Both sites are brownfields, meaning they contain contaminants, pollutants or hazardous substances. There are specific ways in which the land can be cleaned up, but the process must be done before a new development is constructed, and some areas cannot be built on.
Pollutants such as PCBs, number six oil and TAH impacted soil, were identified and likely left over from the former mill. Petroleum products, oil and PCBs were found on the AIM-owned site.
“The location of the proposed facility would revitalize two post-industrial brownfield clean up sites on the Kennebec River to an energy efficient office and learning center,” Elaine Clark, a deputy commissioner from the Maine Department of Administrative Financial Services, told the state’s budget committee in March. It would serve as a “unique learning opportunity” to the public and visitors, she added.
Latti said the new location’s goal is to be a certified green building that will “become a showpiece on how to revitalize and recycle old, contaminated industrial sites.”
“This energy-efficient, environmentally friendly building will reduce the use of water and fuel and create an improved, indoor, eco-friendly environment for staff, visitors and customers,” Latti said.
The governor’s budget still has to be approved before any formal decisions are made regarding the space, but the proposed timeline has bidding and construction starting in 2024 and the debt service would be included in the 2024-25 fiscal year budget. The land has not yet been sold.
Clark said the Department of Administrative and Financial Services will resolve questions about access to the site, the railroad tracks on location, the “off-limit” locations on the property and the issues surrounding the contamination in the coming months if the governor’s budget passes.
In the same meeting Clark spoke at, Augusta Mayor Mark O’Brien said he is enthusiastic about the proposed location, calling it an “outdoor enthusiast’s dream,” while being close in proximity to downtown Augusta and the State House.
He suggested putting a footpath over the Kennebec River to connect both sides of the area, and the possibility of creating paths that could become part of the East Coast Greenway connecting Maine to Florida.
“The sites’ proximity to downtown and restaurants will be very convenient to visitors of (the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife) and the site is close enough where (department) staff will remain well connected to the rest of the state government,” O ‘Brien said.
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