Lawmakers grapple with state’s waste complexities

Posted May 26, 2010, at 9:30 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Responding to growing pressures on Maine’s solid waste management sector, members of the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee met Wednesday for the second of four off-session hearings aimed at clarifying their understanding of the complicated issue.

The committee’s House chairman, Rep. Robert Duchesne, D-Hudson, said several important solid waste bills were killed or tabled in the last legislative session because the committee didn’t have a clear understanding of the issues or the industry. The purpose of the four meetings is “to help the committee understand all the com-plexities of managing solid waste in Maine and to decide whether we need to make changes in policy going forward,” said Duchesne, who lives near the state-owned Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town.

Concerns at the hearing focused largely on the limited capacity remaining in Maine’s public landfills and the possibility that the state might move ahead to license additional space. In addition to Juniper Ridge, there are eight municipal landfills in Maine — in Bath, Brunswick, Augusta, Presque Isle, Fort Fairfield, Greenville, Portland and Lewiston. At the rate the public facilities are being filled, officials estimate there is enough combined existing capacity to last another 10 years.

Additional space could be licensed at Juniper Ridge as well as at the private Crossroads Landfill in Norridgewock. But the state also owns the approximately 1,400-acre Carpenter Ridge parcel near Lincoln and could begin the lengthy process to develop it as a new landfill.

The committee heard from representatives of waste management organizations doing business in Maine, including Vermont-based Casella Waste Systems. Casella manages Juniper Ridge Landfill and owns the now-closed Pine Tree Landfill in Hampden, the Maine Energy Recovery Co. in Biddeford and a number of other solid waste processing and disposal sites in Maine. Other speakers represented Waste Management of New Hampshire/Maine, which owns the Crossroads Landfill in Norridgewock; and EcoMaine, a quasi-municipal nonprofit owned and operated by 21 municipalities in southern Maine.

The committee also heard from the State Planning Office, which oversees the Juniper Ridge contract with Casella, and from the Office of the Attorney General.

Speakers described for the committee their recycling, composting, waste-to-energy and landfill operations and the connections between them, such as the disposal at Juniper Ridge of the ash residue from burning in-state municipal waste to make electricity at the Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. in Orrington.

The issue of in-state versus out-of-state waste was central to a discussion of the amount of construction and demolition debris, or CDD, brought into Maine to fuel biomass burners.

Brian Oliver of Casella Waste Systems said the company processes thousands of tons of CDD from Maine and other states each year for fuel at its facility in Lewiston. But after sorting, about 80 percent of the total amount of CDD is classified as Maine-generated “residue” and disposed of at the Juniper Ridge Landfill, he said.

Policy changes under consideration by the committee could include tightening up the definition of in-state waste, potentially driving down the amount of CDD dumped at Juniper Ridge. The rapid filling of that facility threatens overall landfill capacity in Maine, according to Duchesne. But disallowing CDD that originates in other states could violate the 30-year operating agreement between the State Planning Office and Casella, potentially paving the way for a lawsuit if the company can’t make the profits it anticipated.

Duchesne said lawmakers must grapple with the far-reaching implications of the decision to establish Juniper Ridge in the first place. That decision came in 2003 in an effort to save jobs at the struggling Georgia-Pacific paper mill in Old Town. The $26 million, three-way agreement between the state, the mill and Casella in-cluded a provision requiring Casella to provide the mill with burnable fuel for a new biomass boiler and allowed CDD and its residue to be classified as in-state waste. Georgia-Pacific closed the Old Town mill two years later, leaving Casella in charge of the landfill.

The Natural Resources Committee will continue its consideration of Maine’s solid waste management on Monday, June 14.

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