Group seeking tighter limits on solid waste disposal rules

Posted Jan. 29, 2010, at 9:19 p.m.

OLD TOWN, Maine — Community members and activists called Friday for the state to revise its policies governing the management and regulation of solid waste disposal.

Heartened by the state Department of Environmental Protection’s recent rejection of a proposed expansion of the state-owned Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town, participants at a news conference said the state should exercise stronger oversight of all public and commercial landfills.

Among other demands, they said, the state must make more solid waste disposal information publicly available and support measures such as waste stream reduction and composting over landfill expansion.

DEP found in its draft report released earlier this month that the State Planning Office and Casella Waste Management, which contracts with the state to operate Juniper Ridge, had failed to demonstrate the “public benefit” that would accrue to communities and taxpayers by expanding capacity there from 10 million cubic yards to more than 30 million cubic yards.

In response, Casella and the State Planning Office withdrew the application on Jan. 13, adding that they expected to resubmit it in the near future.

Paul Schroeder of Orono, a longstanding critic of the Juniper Ridge operation and of Casella, said at the meeting that DEP’s rejection provides an opportunity for the state to revisit its statewide solid waste plan. Schroeder reiterated his concern over the amount of material from out of state that gets dumped at Juniper Ridge, and said landfill capacity should be expanded only after the state implements stronger measures to reduce the waste stream through enforced recycling and composting programs.

Ed Spencer of Old Town said statewide recycling rates have decreased since Juniper Ridge opened, from 42 percent of the waste stream in 2003 to 37.8 percent in 2007.

Laura Sanborn of Alton, who lives near the Juniper Ridge facility, said the landfill must be considered “an asset that belongs to the people of Maine and not to corporate America.”

She chastised DEP and the planning office, saying they have supported business practices at Casella instead of protecting the interests of the public. Sanborn, who is also a member of a locally appointed advisory committee for the Juniper Ridge Landfill, said the State Planning Office should provide funding for the group and include it in all communications relative to operations at Juniper Ridge.

Sam Hunting of Orono announced the formation of the Trash Tracking Network, an online citizen group dedicated to compiling, organizing and reporting information about solid waste management in Maine. The group’s Web site will allow individuals to post public data from disparate sources, anecdotal observations and other information.

“There is a tremendous amount of information available … but no way to integrate or track it, no way for citizens to hold Casella accountable or to see for themselves whether there really is a public benefit to the landfill,” Hunting said.

Taryn Hallweaver of the Toxics Action Center in Portland said all communities in Maine must be protected from being “burdened with the pollution and health risks of taking in other people’s trash.”

Much of the responsibility for solid waste management and regulation at Juniper Ridge rests with the State Planning Office. Earlier this week, planning director Martha Freeman said her agency will work with DEP to answer questions about the need for greater capacity at Juniper Ridge Landfill.

“We’re responsible for projecting the state’s solid waste capacity needs,” she said, adding that it is best to consider and approve expansion “before we’re in a crisis mode and about to run out of landfill space.”

Also earlier this week, Don Meagher, manager of planning and development for Casella, said the company’s contract with the state requires planning for expansion. Obtaining approval doesn’t mean the landfill would expand its operations if the waste stream doesn’t merit it, he said.

Meagher said concerns about the amount of trash coming from out of state to Juniper Ridge are overblown.

Reached for comment Friday evening, Environmental Protection Commissioner David Littell said his department would welcome a more active role in solid waste management and regulation, including at Juniper Ridge.

The relationship between DEP and the State Planing Office will come up for review on Friday, when the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee will consider a full day of bills pertaining to landfill use and management in Maine.

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