WILTON — A demolition project recently halted because of dangerous levels of asbestos found at the site failed to meet some inspection guidelines before the construction company started working several months ago, according to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

The discovery came after Downeast Construction on July 20 voluntarily ceased its work in Wilton, after a federal agency reported finding high levels of the harmful building material asbestos at the complex of vacant manufacturing buildings on Depot Street.

State regulators believe the project got a demolition permit from the town, despite missing certain steps tied to asbestos inspections and reporting, required by Maine law before starting this type of project, according to Samantha DePoy-Warren, spokeswoman for the DEP.

Meanwhile, Wilton town selectman Tom Saviello, who is also a Republican state senator, is asking how the situation may affect other Maine communities, many of which are trying to figure out how to redevelop similar aging, vacant manufacturing sites.

He said he wants to make what he thinks may be a confusing regulatory process smoother to get the sites back on tax rolls.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration on July 19 reported finding high levels of asbestos at the demolition site, which got a town permit to start work in April after an approval process that was guided by several DEP officials.

Saviello said town officials worked closely with the state regulatory agency before issuing the demolition permit for the site.

Saviello, who is a member of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, questioned why state regulators didn’t notify town officials sooner if the construction company failed to submit paperwork and meet certain guidelines.

“If they didn’t get it, why didn’t they notify us?” he said, referring to paperwork the DEP requires by law.

The construction company failed to conduct a required asbestos inspection survey, and submit required paperwork notifying the DEP of asbestos-related work done at the site, DePoy-Warren wrote in an email statement.

State regulators and town officials gave the company repeated reminders during the permit approval process, she wrote.

They told company officials specifically that the inspection survey needed to be completed and that the form has to be submitted to the DEP before the town awards a permit, according to her email.

“I think both the town and the state really did everything they could to lay out a predictable path for this demolition process to be up to local and state specs,” she wrote.

Wilton Recycling LLC owns the site and Downeast Construction purchased the salvage rights, which are tied to selling materials from the project, according to Adam Mack, who manages from Portland the corporation that owns the site.

Officials from both companies met with the town representatives and spoke with DEP regulators before the project started, Mack said Thursday.

When asked about the alleged failure to meet certain asbestos guidelines, Mack referred questions to Ryan Byther, with Downeast Construction.

Byther did not respond to attempts to contact him.

“The construction company was handling all that stuff, and we got the go ahead from the town and the DEP,” Mack said, referring to paperwork required by the DEP for demolition projects.

“If there was another form that we didn’t do, we had no knowledge of that,” he said.

Mack said there have been two previous asbestos abatement projects to remove the building material from the site. He also referred to an environmental assessment conducted in 2002 as part of the required testing done at the site.

According to DEP records, an asbestos abatement, which refers to a project that removes the hazardous building material, was conducted in 1990 for former owner Forster Manufacturing Co. A second abatement project was conducted in 2002, the records state.

According to town records, an environmental assessment was conducted in 2002 at the site, which consists of some buildings built more than a century ago.

DePoy-Warren said that the abatement projects and environmental assessment are not sufficient. They do not meet the guidelines that regulators say the current demolition project failed to follow, she said.

She wrote that a DEP regulator toured the demolition site two weeks before the OHSA report, and was told the asbestos survey results and form were submitted. She declined to comment on the possible penalties for violating regulations on demolition projects. Further asbestos testing, beyond what the federal regulatory agency has reported, is scheduled to be conducted this weekend, and it’s premature to comment on penalties until the test results come back, she wrote.

The construction company has hired a DEP-licensed company that deals with asbestos issues. The company will inspect the site and do the cleanup if necessary, she wrote.

Bill Coffin, director for OSHA operations in Maine, has said his agency got test results that showed dangerously high levels of airborne asbestos at the site, where about 10 people had been working.

The federal regulator agency on July 19 notified officials that construction workers and emergency responders may have been exposed to the cancer-causing building material at the site, Coffin has said.

Eleven firefighters and at least one police officer from Wilton responded to a small fire at the site the day before OSHA got its test results, according to town officials and Coffin, who was not working last week.

While the project being investigated involves private companies, municipalities benefit from getting valuable property — currently made useless by old, vacant industrial buildings — back paying taxes, according to Saviello.

Many municipalities actually own old, vacant mills and they are working on projects to demolish and redevelop the sites, he said. There are currently two such sites owned by Wilton that are in the planning process for redevelopment.

It’s important to have efficient regulation of these redevelopment projects, according to Saviello, so that communities don’t miss chances to get prime real estate back on the tax rolls.

Serving on the committee that writes laws for the agency, Saviello said he plans to work with DEP officials to help them determine if changes need to be made because of the situation in Wilton.

“My hope is that we all learn from this exercise because this is a chance for us to get rid of these (vacant buildings),” he said.

David Robinson — 861-9287

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