Dragon plant closure: Harbinger of doom or landmark opportunity?

Tue, 09/19/2023 - 7:00am

Many in Thomaston are bemoaning the September 6 announcement by Giant Holding Companies that Dragon Products, Inc., on Route 1 in Thomaston will be closing by 2025.

Thomaston has long relied on the revenue produced by taxes and a Dragon tax increment financing. Kara George, Thomaston Town Manager, foresees significant municipal budget challenges next year and beyond with the loss of this revenue. Dragon’s properties consume one-third of the Town of Thomaston. They also own a parcel at Snow Marine Park in Rockland.

On Friday, September 8, the Thomaston Dragon Citizens Advisory Panel met. The plant closure was at the top of the list for discussion. Jennifer Small, the plant manager, described that it would be a “staged shuttering.” The first employees will be laid off in November and given severance packages. The environmental compliance employees will be the last ones on site. There were two Select Board members present at the meeting, along with Ed Harris, superintendent of the Environmental Department; Lindsey Junkins, town assessor; and John Fancy, project manager.

Most of the discussion revolved around the economics of the decision: High fuel and logistical costs.

Dragon’s closing may be seen as a harbinger of doom for some, but it can also be a landmark opportunity.

If Dragon sells its non-quarried land, it could be made available for affordable housing in a very desirable Midcoast Maine location that is in dire need of it. However, if Dragon retains its non-quarried land, then Thomaston and the surrounding Midcoast area are hardly “sustainable”.

The closure process leaves many unanswered questions: What happens to the stack, kilns, and silos? Can the property be repurposed and purchased?  What happens to the cement waste piles that may take centuries to recycle? What happens to the land that has been gouged by quarrying?

What happens to Thomaston’s Wastewater Treatment Plant when the plant’s water may cause an overflow of the existing lagoon system when the mining stops later this year? Will the Town of Thomaston have any leverage with Dragon regarding its disposition of the property?

Who is the “watchdog” for the town to ensure adherence to environmental protection?

Speaking of protecting natural resources, the fact that Dragon was served a Notice of Violation on August 28 by Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection for eight alleged air emissions license violations has not even made the news.

The August 28 notice concerns alleged violations from 2018 (when the last enforcement action ended) to second quarter of 2021. Dragon is cited by the DEP of continuing to violate air quality regulations, despite the fines imposed.

The real opportunity here is to truly be a sustainable community; one that doesn’t rely on fossil fuels; and one that honors and protects air, land, water and human resources. Towns across the country are faced with mining closures and many have created renewable energy success stories. Can Thomaston do the same?

Kathleen Norton lives in Thomaston