Vapor floats into the air above the Woodland Pulp and St. Croix Tissue mill in Baileyville, Maine, in this July 17, 2016, file photo. Credit: Bill Trotter

The leak of more than half a million gallons of wastewater last week at a Baileyville mill is the third such leak that has occurred at the mill in the past two years.

Twice in five days in September 2016, burst pipes at the Woodland Pulp Mill leaked a combined total of more than 3 million gallons of partially treated wastewater. Of that amount, roughly 2 million gallons were captured by designated spill ponds on the mill property, while the rest flowed into the St. Croix River, which separates Maine from the Canadian province of New Brunswick, according to a notice of violation issued by Maine Department of Environmental Protection to Woodland Pulp in December of that year.

A section of pipe that burst Sept. 23, 2016, was replaced by the mill, which resumed operations four days later on Sept. 27, according to DEP. The following day, the pipe ruptured again near the same spot.

All the leaks, including the one that occurred last week, involved wastewater generated by the mill’s industrial processes that leaked from a pressurized pipe that connects a pumphouse to an aeration lagoon, according to DEP. In each case, the water that leaked had received some primary treatment that removed some of the solids from the effluent by allowing them to settle. Aside from that, the wastewater was untreated.

The rupture that occurred last week did not occur along the same approximate location of the pipe as the leaks that occurred in 2016, DEP said.

The mill’s permit allows it to discharge into the river up to 40 million gallons a day of “treated process waters, landfill leachate, and other miscellaneous waste waters associated with the pulp and papermaking,” according to DEP. It also can discharge 5.6 million gallons of noncontact cooling waters into the river and an unspecified amount of stormwater runoff collected at the mill site.

In the December 2016 notice of violation, the department had listed corrective actions Woodland Pulp should take in response to the spills three months earlier.

One was for the mill to provide DEP with an implementation schedule of improvements to the pipe that had been recommended in a report that the mill had submitted to the department in May of that year. Another was for the mill to submit a separate report to DEP on the cause of the September 2016 ruptures. A third was for the mill to replace the primary effluent force main pipe between the pump house and the Wapsaconhagan Brook crossing by April 1, 2017.

David Madore, spokesman for DEP, said Thursday that Woodland Pulp did complete the corrective actions that the department requested. He said that DEP did not assess any fine on Woodland Pulp for the 2016 wastewater spills.

“We did a site inspection after [work was done] and everything we asked for was met,” Madore said of the 2016 spill repairs.

Scott Beal, spokesman for the mill, wrote in an email Thursday evening that in response to the 2016 rupture, the mill replaced 1,200 feet of the pipe fromthe pump house to just south of Wapsaconhagan Brook, which flows into the St. Croix village along the southern edge of the village of Woodland. The breech that occurred last week occurred in a section of old pipe roughly 100 feet south of where the new section pipe was installed early last year.

The September 2016 spills occurred less than a month after local, state and federal officials celebrated the startup of St. Croix Tissue at the mill site, after mill owner International Grand Investment Corp. spent $150 million to acquire and install two tissue-making machines at the property.

IGIC, based in Hong Kong, bought the mill from Domtar in 2010 for $64 million. The following year, the firm spent roughly $12 million to convert the mill from using oil as its primary fuel to natural gas, which is less expensive.

An estimated 400 people work in Baileyville for the two IGIC subsidiaries.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....