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CUMBERLAND — High levels of methane gas at a closed-out demolition landfill near the Public Works garage could lead the town to scrap plans to move the garage, and prevent additional housing from being built in the area.
Town Manager Bill Shane reported the situation Monday to the Town Council, which also unanimously endorsed moving a fleet of 26 school buses from the garage to a facility in neighboring North Yarmouth.
The council also unanimously dropped Skillin Road as a potential site for a new Public Works garage.
Part of the landfill closure required the town to install a set of monitored gas vents around the property. Shane said methane evels in recent months were recently as high as 9.5 percent on top of the landfill, creeping up to 16.4 percent closer to the property line of homes along Wyman Way.
Tests in the basements of those homes have shown no presence of methane, or less than 1 percent, Shane said. He added that he is confident that clay along the boundary line “has created a barrier, so that any methane coming off the site would be stopped primarily at the border.”
Still, additional vents are required, which will reduce the amount of land that would have been available for new housing, had the Public Works garage been moved.
“The setback line for these vents basically cuts right through this garage,” limiting the scope of future development, Shane said. “… It’s such a small site that it doesn’t really bode well for future development, because most of these areas and vents will have to be monitored probably for at least the next 10 years.”
Along with the extensive monitoring and testing that will be required, construction in those areas would be difficult and costly, negating any future tax revenue impact from development, Shane said. He therefore recommends the town garage remain in place, minus the bus operations and a compost pile.
The cost for the vents, which has yet to be determined, would be borne equally by the town and state, and the town’s plan is subject to approval by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, he noted.
Creating the new base for the buses, which in part would free space at the town’s crowded Drowne Road garage, could take two to four years, Shane said, depending on whether North Yarmouth expands its own cramped facility about 3 miles away at 40 Parsonage Road.
The buses belong to School Administrative District 51. Six service bays in a building at the North Yarmouth site would be shared by that town and the School Department.
Cumberland officials have grappled in recent years about what to do with the town’s nearly 50-year-old garage at 23 Drowne Road.
The Town Council has considered several places for it, but each proposal has fallen through. Neighbors have opposed a vacant area north of the Cumberland Fairgrounds next to the Town Forest, and a proposed area next to a riding club on Skillin Road generated opposition from neighbors last September.
In light of that, the council Monday eliminated Skillin Road from consideration.
If the school buses are moved, municipal operations would continue on Drowne Road, Shane said, although he hopes this summer to move the facility’s compost and brush piles, which neighbors have called eyesores.
Although the town has considered relocating the garage itself to allow expansion of that area’s Village Green residential development, that option now appears to be off the table, too.
Since both towns are in need of updated wash bays and fuel islands, Cumberland could build the former while North Yarmouth could provide the latter –possibilities that were discussed at a workshop last month with representatives from the towns and School Department.
Given the fledgling nature of the talks, the actual cost of a joint venture in both communities has yet to be determined.
“This the first step in the right direction,” Cumberland Council Chairman Ron Copp said. “This is a good plan; the three of us can work together, and I think it will save the taxpayers in this town a lot of money.”
Bob MacKinnon, superintendent of the Yarmouth Water District, warned that North Yarmouth’s public works site sits on the aquifer that feeds the district’s Hayes Well.
“The district recently completed a groundwater model that found that … the area of contribution to that well is actually much larger than we thought, and the water moves much more quickly to the well,” he said. “… This is a poor site, in our opinion, for additional fueling facilities, and additional storage of vehicles.”
Councilor Bill Stiles said he was aware of “maybe three” instances in the past of aquifer problems in West Cumberland, but “today there are a lot more scientific ways in which to protect the aquifer that weren’t available back then.”
Copp, who runs Copp Motors in that part of town, said he has to “jump through more hoops than you guys can imagine. … It costs me more money to dispose of (a hazardous material) than it does to buy it.”
Cumberland Town Manager Bill Shane updates the Town Council Monday on methane levels recently detected near the public works facility, which hampers the scope of additional residential development in that area.