Efforts to expand the state-owned Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town hit a potential setback Tuesday when state regulators issued an initial denial to Casella Waste Management’s controversial proposal.
In a draft decision, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection said Casella and the State Planning Office did not demonstrate that current waste disposal trends justify tripling the size of the landfill at this time. Casella operates the landfill on behalf of the state.
Additionally, there are too many unanswered questions and potential changes in the way solid waste is managed in Maine to move forward with the request, the DEP wrote. As a result, the department has determined that the proposed expansion falls short of meeting strict public benefit requirements under the law.
“The Department finds that delaying the development of an expansion at the Juniper Ridge Landfill will not result in a gap in local, regional or state waste landfilling needs,” states the text of the draft denial.
Casella and the State Planning Office sought the expansion as part of the company’s contract with the state to run the landfill. The proposal would provide an additional 21.9 million cubic yards of capacity by adding more “cells” to the landfill.
But in the draft denial, DEP staff noted that the department is not bound by the commitments made in the contract regarding expanding the landfill.
David Littell, commissioner of the DEP, said there were simply too many substantial questions to move forward with a public hearing on the matter, which would have been the next step in the process. Maine has adequate landfill space for at least 10 years and likely longer, he said.
“Based on current projections, there is enough long-term and medium-term capacity,” Littell said. “There is no immediate need to move forward with a substantial expansion.”
But Don Meagher, manager of planning and development for Casella, said while the state has enough landfill capacity, it typically takes at least five years to get a proposal through the regulatory process and appeals.
“It doesn’t take long for the clock to run down, and when it does, trying to find that new capacity can take a long time,” Meagher said.
Parties have until Jan. 15 to respond to the DEP’s draft decision. Littell did not say when a final decision might be issued.
Juniper Ridge, formerly known as the West Old Town Landfill, is licensed to receive construction and demolition debris, nonhazardous “special waste,” miscellaneous nonspecial waste and municipal-household trash that is diverted from incinerators. The types of waste Juniper Ridge would accept would not change under the expansion proposal.
The landfill still had 7.7 million cubic yards of capacity as of Dec. 31, 2008, the latest available figures. But there are also numerous municipally owned landfills with substantial capacity as well as the sole other commercial landfill still operating in the state — Crossroads Landfill in Norridgewock — which is estimated to have 12 years of capacity left. Pine Tree Landfill in Hampden, which was owned by Casella, closed last month as scheduled.
The DEP’s initial denial said uncertainty over the fate of Casella’s Maine Energy incinerator in Biddeford as well as changes in rules governing construction and demolition debris could affect waste management in the state and, therefore, space needs at Juniper Ridge.
Rep. Bob Duchesne, a Hudson Democrat and co-chair of the legislative committee that handles waste issues, said he fully expects Casella and the State Planning Office to get approval for an expansion eventually. Siting a new landfill would be much more difficult, he said.
Duchesne was pleased but not surprised by the DEP’s draft denial.
“It pretty much mirrors what me and a lot of other people have been saying,” Duchesne said. “It is basically saying, ‘Why are we rushing this?’”