LEWISTON – The state’s Department of Environmental Protection has finalized changes to the discharge permit for the NewPage mill in Rumford.

The changes sharply curtail the amount of time the mill has to come into compliance with new limits on its discharges into the Androscoggin River.

“As far as the DEP is concerned, we have their modifications done,” DEP Commissioner David Littell said.

The changes, he said, were completed Monday; two appeals filed before the modifications were finalized are pending.

The amount of time that the mill has to come into compliance with its phosphorus discharge has been reduced from 10 years to about two years, with a deadline set for 2008. It also requires the mill to come into immediate compliance on its release of suspended solids, Littell said.

Tony Lyons, a spokesman for NewPage, said the mill hadn’t seen the final requirements, but was familiar with the terms of the permit.

“Our phosphorus limits would then be among the lowest of any mill in the country” and on par with a brand new mill, Lyons said.

The discussion over the permit, however, is not complete.

Once the mill has had a chance to review the modifications, it could decide to appeal. Outside groups, including other dischargers along the Androscoggin River and environmental organizations, also have an opportunity to appeal.

“We’ll wait and see what the modification looks like,” Lyons said. “But the bottom line for us is that we’re going to operate in compliance with our permit. … We want this process over and done with so we can concentrate on making paper.”

The changes were discussed during a status hearing last week, and, according to Littell, neither the mill nor other interested parties objected. There is a 30-day window for an appeal to be filed on NewPage’s permit.

FPL Energy had appealed NewPage’s original permit based the allocation of responsibility for pumping oxygen into Gulf Island Pond, Littell said.

The Conservation Law Foundation and Androscoggin River Alliance also appealed the old permit. While many of the issues in that appeal have been addressed, one technical legal issue remains, Littell said.

A message left with the lawyer representing the environmental groups was not immediately returned Tuesday.

Discharge permits were issued for NewPage, International Paper in Jay, FPL Energy and the Livermore Falls wastewater treatment plant in September and immediately became a flash point in communities along the river and for environmental groups because of the 10-year timeline for reducing the release of pollution.

Ultimately, the controversial process of issuing the permits led to the forced resignation of then-DEP Commissioner Dawn Gallagher, a finding by the attorney general that the DEP had violated the state’s freedom of information law and a number of legal challenges and appeals.

When Littell took over as commissioner in December, he quickly moved to reconsider the discharge permits and in May proposed more stringent requirements.

“The analysis showed that we could clean up the river faster,” Littell said in May. “We’ll achieve the water quality standards sooner than we would under the permits that were issued in September.”

The modifications have not been finalized for FPL Energy or IP, which in July finalized the sale of its two mills in Maine to CMP Holdings LLC.

Last week, the state Board of Environmental Protection approved a request from FPL Energy and IP for a public hearing on the permit changes.

No date has been set for the hearing, but Littell said he expected that it would be later this year and could coincide with any appeals that have been filed to the permits.

According to Littell, any appeal of the Rumford permit would likely be rolled into the hearings.


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