Saving Jobs and the Environment in New Hampshire

Saving Jobs and the Environment in New Hampshire

When pulp and paper mills in Gorham and Berlin, NH shut down last summer, 800-plus workers lost their jobs. And it appeared the mills and their contaminated properties would be abandoned, too, when the parent company declared bankruptcy. Large volumes of dangerous chemicals would also have been left behind if the mills had been permanently abandoned.

A few weeks ago, the situation turned much for the better when a Connecticut-based company, Fraser Papers, assumed ownership of the mills and announced plans for their re-opening. Importantly from EPA's standpoint, the takeover included two agreements for addressing widespread environmental problems at the two properties.

The first agreement, a binding consent agreement between EPA, the State of New Hampshire and Fraser, requires the company to meet a strict schedule for addressing existing environmental violations. Fraser will not face penalties for the violations if they meet the deadlines. The specific projects Fraser must undertake include:

  • meeting emission standards for hazardous air pollutants from the pulp and paper industry, which will require installation of pollution control equipment by December 2003;
  • addressing turbidity of a water discharge with interim measures in place by December 2002 and long-term measures to be agreed upon with the NH Department of Environmental Services;
  • inspection and certification of above ground storage tanks within six months;
  • calibration and testing of air continuous emission monitors within six months;
  • disposal of three PCB transformers currently stored in a garage; and
  • testing of in-use transformers within six months to determine whether they must be handled as PCB transformers.

    As part of the agreement, Fraser also will undertake a comprehensive review of environmental compliance at the facilities. Under EPA's audit policy, violations discovered as a result of the review are eligible for reduced or eliminated penalties if Fraser promptly discloses them and takes steps to resolve them in a timely manner.

    The second agreement provides for the state of New Hampshire to clean up PCB spills at the Burgess Mill in Berlin using $1 million set aside from the purchase of the mills by the judge presiding over Pulp and Paper of America's bankruptcy. Fraser will take responsibility for maintaining a cap over the site. The agreement allows the sale to go forward in compliance with federal laws requiring the cleanup of PCBs.

    Another significant factor smoothing the sale was the federal Brownfields legislation passed this year which protects innocent buyers from liability for pre-existing contamination, as long as the buyer maintains appropriate care of the property. EPA and the state provided guidance to Fraser on the legislation and standards for care of any existing contamination.