Maine DEP and DECD Collaboration Successful In Saving 170 Hartland Jobs

February 18, 2011

CONTACT:
Samantha DePoy-Warren, Maine DEP, samantha.depoy-warren@maine.gov/ (207) 287-5842 Elaine Scott, DECD. elaine.scott@maine.gov/ (207) 624-7485

AUGUSTA — The Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) collaborated to save 170 jobs at a bankrupt tannery in Hartland.

While DECD led the financial facilitation and eventual compromise between the town of Hartland, seller Prime Tanning, buyer Tasman and the Maine DEP, it was the environmental department’s commitment to temporarily withholding enforcement action against the tannery’s new owners and its approval of the continued operation of Hartland’s wastewater treatment and pollution-control facility and the town’s landfill that supported the sale in moving forward.

It was finalized this past Saturday when Hartland residents voted definitively 196-15 to approve a modification of long-standing cost-sharing arrangement to fund the town's wastewater treatment facility and its landfill.

The transaction between Prime Tanning and Tasman occurred just after that vote, protecting the 170 jobs at the facility and the more than $100,000 tax revenue it generates for Hartland.

“We worked together to get the job done. It was about collaboration and finding a solution for all parties involved in order to save jobs, prevent a plant from closing and help a town,” said DECD Commissioner Phil Congdon.

His department brought Maine DEP to the table in early February when prospective tannery buyer Tasman Leather Group expressed concerns that they would be unable to come into immediate compliance on the amount of chromium discharged by the Prime Tanning facility in Hartland were they to buy it out of bankruptcy. Maine DEP then committed to exercising enforcement discretion –essentially agreeing to withhold enforcement action– against the new owners until December 31 of this year.

In return for this flexibility, Tasman must meet certain conditions to ensure environmental protection including installation of chromium pollution control equipment by the end of 2011 and continuing current levels of wastewater pretreatment.

“It is incredibly impressive what DEP has done in such a short period of time,” said Nathan Nartell, an attorney from Eaton Peabody for the town of Hartland.

Brian Kavanah, Maine DEP’s Director of Water Quality Management, said the flexibility given by his department will allow the Kentucky-based buyer the time they say they need to complete installation of a bag house buffing dust collection system that will remove the chromium containing buffing dust from the wastewater discharged by the tannery.

He assured the public the agreement will not result in any increased amounts of pollution from the tannery into the Sebasticook River; rather it will give Tasman time to fix a faulty piece of equipment that resulted in the tannery under its previous ownership discharging levels of chromium above the allowed amount.

He said the new owners are committed to putting in the pollution protection devices to ensure the tannery will have less negative environmental impact than ever before.

“Our department’s hard work over the last two weeks in partnership with DECD created the level of certainty the town and Tasman needed to make this deal happen,” Kavanah said. “We worked quickly to deliver regulatory flexibility and regulatory certainty without any compromise to environmental protection. Hopefully, this will be a turning point for the tannery and the town of Hartland.”

Maine DEP Commissioner Darryl Brown said his department will be looking for more opportunities like this one moving forward to reach out and proactively assist the regulated community navigate becoming compliant.

“Our department will not be about ‘gotcha’ enforcement. Instead, our commitment is to find ways that both the business community and the environment can mutually benefit,” explained Brown. “This isn’t an environmental giveaway. Instead, it is an opportunity that allows Tasman to get their feet firmly planted on the ground and begin making the investments in infrastructure there that we believe will not only ensure environmental compliance but result in the tannery actually being more environmentally and economically sustainable than before.”

Brown said he is especially pleased with how collaboratively his department and DECD worked together to ensure that it could happen.

“I am especially proud that we were able to work so closely across departments with DECD and their hard work in bringing the proper parties to the table really was a turning point in moving this from problem to solution,” he said. “We share their commitment to creating economic opportunity for the people of Maine and understand that now more than ever, a healthy environment and a strong economy support one another.”

For more information about the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, visit http://www.maine.gov/dep. To learn more about the Department of Economic and Community Development, visit http:///www.econdevmaine.com