OXFORD — A local business owner has threatened to appeal the Planning Board’s approval of the site application for a $12. 2 million solar farm, off Route 26 and Number 6 Road, if the project proponents do not provide erosion control protection for his abutting junkyard salvage business.

“I’m fighting for my business and livelihood,” Bill Penfold, owner of Oxford Auto Salvage located at 117 Number 6 Road, told the Planning Board at its May 9 meeting. The business prepares and scrap motor vehicles and metal for recycling

Penfold claims that an inspector from the Department of Environmental Protection hazardous waste division has told him that if the water table on his property goes up another foot, his business will be shut down. The business is located across the street from the entrance to the Oxford County Regional Airport and from the solar farm project.

The entrance to Oxford Auto Salvage, pictured above, is across the street from a section of the proposed solar farm on Number Six Road in Oxford. Leslie H. Dixon


“If the water table goes up, I’m out of business,” said Penfold. The business is in a residential and commercial area where many on Route 26 get water from the town while homes off Route 26 are generally served by private wells.

Penfold and about a half a dozen abutters posed various questions at the April 11 public hearing, including concern over water runoff from the project site which is described as a “farm field” that will be mowed no more than two times year.

The Department of Environmental Protection has issued a permit approval, with conditions, for the project, which lies within the Little Androscoggin River watershed, saying the runoff will be treated by re-vegetated ares which will act as meadow storm water buffers. The DEP stated that the project site is not located over a mapped sand and gravel aquifer and does not propose any withdrawal from or discharge to the groundwater.

The permit approval report further states that the DEP has found the project is “unlikely to cause or increase flooding or cause an unreasonable flood hazard to any structure.”

That information did not, however, allay Penfold’s concerns.

If the water table goes up a foot, he’s (a DEP inspector) going to shut me down,” Penfold told the Planning Board.

Penfold is permitted to have a number of hazardous wastes on his property including oil, gasoline and other “nasty stuff” as he described them to Planning Board members. But concern by state officials that the high water table could push the hazardous waste into the groundwater, which is regulated by the Maine Hazardous Waste Management Regulations, prompted Penfold to ask the Planning Board to impose protection for his property.

Penfold asked that the developer be mandated as a condition of its Planning Board permit approval to build a berm, perhaps 30 feet in length, while they grub and grade the existing 38-acre project site, as a preventative measure to water runoff on his business site.

Planning Board members told Penfold that they can not mandate that condition, but Penfold could contact the developer on his own.

Shawn Thieo of CES, who represented the project at the May 9 meeting, said the developer wants to be a good neighbor and although he had no authority to approve such a change in plan, he assumed the developer would be willing to discuss the situation further with the business owner.

Prior concerns

Oxford Auto Slavage is one of 225 businesses and individuals, ranging from the Oxford Casino to Central Maine Power and the Town of Oxford and others, that has reported at least one spill to the Department of Environmental Protection since the 1980s.

Penfold has had three investigations launched by the DEP against his business including two from anonymous calls to the DEP in 2007 and 2010. In those two cases no violation was found.

But in 2008, investigators issued Penfold a notice of violation after responding to a report from the Department of Environmental Protection Solid Waste Division staff of “mismanagement and unreported oil discharges” at the auto salvage site.

Significant volumes of contaminated soil on site” consisting of oil, plastics and metals from years of vehicle crushing was reportedly found by DEP inspectors, according to a 2008 report from Department of Environmental Protection.

According to the DEP, Penfold resolved the problem by shoveling the contaminated soils into the back of a dump truck and rinsing away the sand with a hose then putting the soil in cars that were crushed and sent out to be recycled. Penfold claimed the soil was not entering the nearby brook, a tributary of Thompson Lake, or nearby wetland, according to DEP documents. Sampling indicated no significant impact to the nearby stream, according to the report.

The DEP reported that the recycling facility refused to accept the soil filled cars once they discovered what was happening.

Despite the fact that the current 2019 DEP permit states that the project site is not on any mapped  sand and gravel aquifer, it appears that in 2008 the department was aware of a “significant” sand and gravel aquifer in the area and questioned whether the salvage business should have been licensed by the town because of it.

According to the final report issued in 2008 by the DEP Oil and Hazardous Waste Division, “the terrain is flat and overlies a significant sand and gravel aquifer.” The industrial storm water inspector noted in the final report that she understood “salvage yards are prohibited in areas over s & g (sand and gravel) aquifers and are not supposed to be licensed by the local  municipality.”

The business was formerly a junkyard before Penfold purchased it.

The inspector noted several unreported oil spills and said the owner that the oil soaked soil had been placed in cars that were to be crushed. Penfold had been told by the DEP to stop the practice.

Penfold has 30 days from the May 9 decision to appeal the Planning Board decision and the Appeals Board then has 35 days to act on the appeal.

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