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HARPSWELL — The process of removing a fuel pipeline from Mitchell Field to the former Brunswick Naval Air Station and returning control of the land to its owners has finally concluded, 50 years after the Navy acquired the property.
As of Dec. 21, 2011, the U.S. Navy no longer holds a pipeline or access easement over a 30-foot wide, seven-mile swath of land stretching up Harpswell Neck and into Brunswick.
Fuel flowed through the pipeline until 1991, when the Navy stopped transporting fuel to BNAS by ship. Ten years later, the Navy conveyed the pipeline and fuel farm at Mitchell Field to the town, and in 2006 the Board of Selectmen established a committee to study removal of the pipeline.
The Pipeline Easement Advisory Committee successfully petitioned Maine’s congressional delegation to convince the Navy to remove the pipeline and return the easement and right-of-way to abutting landowners. The pipeline, buried 4 feet underground, crossed 68 properties in Harpswell. It was removed in 2010.
The Navy took soil samples along the length of the pipeline, and lab analysis revealed 75 sites that were contaminated with materials that likely came from the pipeline’s asbestos coating.
After further testing, the Navy and the Maine Department of Health and Human Services concluded that the contamination did not pose an “unreasonable risk to human health,” and no further soil clean up would be required, according to a Navy-issued environmental fact sheet for the removal of the pipeline.
During the pipeline removal, the Navy discovered an additional two sites that were contaminated by spilled jet fuel. A Massachusetts-based contractor eventually excavated and disposed of the soil.
Former Selectman Amy Haible, who helped create the Pipeline Implementation Committee, said she is relieved that the process is finally over.
Because the easement prevented anyone from building above the pipeline, and the Navy cut back the brush in the area, the pipeline had become sort of a no-man’s land, Haible said, with snowmobilers riding the length of it from Harpswell into Brunswick.
“The public perception was that the pipeline was this public lane,” she said.
Now that the easement has been released, landowners have more control, something Haible said her neighbors on Harpswell Neck “feel really good about.”
Harpswell residents whose property was affected by the pipeline will receive a formal letter in coming weeks that explains the changes to the easement.