OLD TOWN, Maine — The State Planning Office and Casella Waste Management have withdrawn their preliminary application to expand the state-owned Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town.
Officials with Casella and the planning office said Wednesday that the withdrawal, coming in response to a recent ruling by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, simply postpones the inevitable need to plan for greater landfill capacity at the only state-owned trash facility.
But activists opposed to the landfill’s presence and the way it is regulated hope the delay provides an opportunity to shine more light on an industry whose motives they mistrust. An informational meeting and press conference hosted by landfill critics and other concerned citizens is scheduled for this Friday in Old Town.
In a draft decision issued early this month, the DEP found that the proposed expansion of the landfill’s capacity from 10 million cubic yards to more than 30 million cubic yards fails to demonstrate a public benefit to the project.
The public benefit demonstration requirement, which applies to many public agencies and projects, was expanded last year by the Legislature to include future expansions at Juniper Ridge.
The DEP report also found that the expansion is unfounded at this time and is inconsistent with state and local planning and policy.
DEP Commissioner David Littell said when the report was released that too many questions remain about the way solid waste is managed in Maine. In addition, he said, there is enough existing landfill capacity for at least 10 years and probably longer.
“Based on current projections, there is enough long-term and medium-term capacity,” Littell said. “There is no need to move forward with a substantial expansion.”
In a letter dated Jan. 13, State Planning Director Martha Freeman and Brian Oliver, vice president of NEWSME Landfill Operations, Casella’s parent company, said they disagreed with the DEP’s ruling but withdrew their preliminary application. They said they expect to resubmit an application “at some point in the near future.”
Freeman said Wednesday it is important to respond to DEP concerns and to plan ahead for expansion at the landfill.
“We’re responsible for projecting the state’s solid waste capacity need,” she said. Many factors can affect the flow of solid waste, she said, including the downturn in the economy and its impact on new construction projects.
Obtaining approval to expand at Juniper Ridge needs to happen ahead of the actual need, she said, “before we’re in a crisis mode and about to run out of landfill space.”
Paul Schroeder of Orono, an outspoken critic of the Juniper Ridge operation, said Wednesday that he expects there will be a delay of at least two years before Casella reapplies. That offers a window of opportunity for gathering information about the operations of the landfill, he said, including the thorny issue of how solid waste from other states is able to be classified as in-state waste once it is received and processed at an in-state processing facility.
Only waste generated in Maine is legally allowed to be dumped at Juniper Ridge Landfill, but trash trucked across the state line and “processed” at a Casella-owned facility in Biddeford can then legally be reclassified as Maine-generated trash.
For instance, construction and demolition debris can be brought from out of state to Casella’s Maine Energy incinerator in Biddeford, where some of the waste can be burned. Under current regulations, what is left behind that cannot be incinerated can be reclassified as in-state waste and trucked to Juniper Ridge.
Schroeder criticized the state for not compiling comprehensive public data about the origins and amount of trash trucked to Juniper Ridge from other states.
“There has been no way to get firm data about the garbage industry,” Schroeder said. “So we have the task of not only defending ourselves from these people [Casella] who are barging into our community, but also of working with insubstantial data to do it.”
Schroeder said a loose-knit group calling itself the Trash Tracking Network plans to launch a project aimed at bringing “transparency” to the solid waste industry.
Don Meagher, manager of planning and development for Casella, said Wednesday that concerns about in-state versus out-of-state trash at Juniper Ridge are overblown.
“People continue to claim there is out-of-state waste coming to Juniper Ridge, but they have yet to identify a single truck,” he said.
A news conference is planned for 11:30 a.m. Friday at the Old Town Public Library. The public is invited to attend.