AUGUSTA — Concerned residents and public officials urged the State Planning Office on Friday to be more transparent when considering changes to the way that Juniper Ridge Landfill in West Old Town is run.
More than 250 people signed a petition last year requesting that the State Planning Office draft rules that would require the agency hold a public hearing whenever substantive changes are proposed to Juniper Ridge’s contract.
Residents filed the petition after learning that SPO kept quiet for nearly two years about changes to the contract between the agency and the private firm that runs the state-owned landfill.
The changes, which were adopted in late 2006, would have allowed Casella Waste Management to dump up to 20,000 tons of construction and demolition debris into Juniper Ridge annually when a processing facility elsewhere was closed.
Critics contend that much of that “bypass” debris could have been trucked into Maine from other states, thereby skirting a law that prohibits out-of-state matter from ending up in state-owned landfills.
Ten people spoke in support of the proposed rule to require a public hearing when future contract changes are contemplated. No one spoke against the proposal during a hearing held Friday afternoon at the University of Maine at Augusta.
“Anything that brings more accountability is a good thing,” said Ed Spencer, who lives less than two miles from the landfill.
Rep. Bob Duchesne, a Hudson Democrat who initiated the petition, said there have been major discrepancies between what the public has been told would happen at Juniper Ridge and what is really happening.
The landfill originally was supposed to receive about 450,000 tons of waste annually, but last year the tonnage topped 600,000, Duchesne said. The public also was assured repeatedly by top state officials and Casella that no out-of-state waste would end up in the landfill.
But two years later SPO renegotiated the contract to potentially allow tens of thousands of tons of non-Maine construction and demolition debris into Juniper Ridge. Duchesne pointed out that state planning officials never informed the landfill’s advisory council, local officials or legislators grappling with waste issues.
“The policy discussion has happened largely without public participation and often without public knowledge,” Duchesne told two representatives from SPO.
Under the proposed rules, SPO would have to hold a public hearing whenever changes to the contract could:
— Increase the amount of waste sent to the facility.
— Increase the importation of waste to the facility.
— Force changes in the facility’s operation that could affect traffic, odor, noise or public safety in abutting communities.
No one from SPO spoke to the issue Friday. But during a meeting with the Juniper Ridge Landfill Advisory Committee in October, state planning director Martha Freeman said her office negotiated the changes at a time when the state was trying to reopen the Georgia-Pacific Corp. mill in Old Town.
Freeman pointed out that Casella would have to change its permits with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection before the changes could be implemented, and that process would involve public comment. Casella representatives said last year they no longer plan to seek those changes to their permit with the DEP.
News of the changes came to light after members of the local anti-landfill group, We the People, obtained copies of the contract amendments through Freedom of Information requests.
The State Planning Office will accept written comments on the proposed rules through 4 p.m. Jan. 20. Comments should be sent to: State Planning Office, Attn: Rhonda Carl, 38 State House Station, Augusta 04333.