Katahdin towns reject Dolby landfill’s annual $200,000 operating cost

Posted Oct. 28, 2011, at 7:20 p.m.

EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — A key element to the Main Street paper mill’s revitalization, the Dolby landfill and its nearly $200,000 annual operating cost, has become a hot potato bounced between state and Katahdin region leaders, officials said Friday.

State leaders who engineered the state’s purchase of the landfill — thereby removing the largest single impediment to the mill sale that occurred on Sept. 16 and the mill’s restart earlier this month — apparently made no provision for landfill operations, Millinocket Town Manager Eugene Conlogue said.

East Millinocket and Millinocket leaders reject state efforts to pass the operations entirely onto them, said Mark Scally, chairman of the East Millinocket Board of Selectmen.

That work includes grass mowing, daily security patrols, road plowing in winter and the hauling of excess leachate.

“The issue is: What can the towns do, practically? We can share some of the duties with policing and perhaps the plowing [of landfill roads in winter], but we have reduced our public safety and public works forces to the point where we might need some help,” Scally said Friday.

Both towns’ leaders recognize that they have at least a moral commitment to help the state manage and make useful the landfill, which has several years’ utility left to it, but the towns also were hardest hit by the April 2010 mill closure and the loss of 415 jobs, Conlogue said.

Both governments made severe cuts to match tax revenue losses caused by the revaluation of the Millinocket and East Millinocket mills, which Cate Street Capital of Portsmouth, N.H., purchased last month and which have been viewed as a tandem operation.

The towns operate transfer stations, not landfills. Neither has the equipment or skilled personnel to handle many landfill chores and many functions that are simple elsewhere become complex at landfills, Scally said.

“You have to know where to mow because you have hydrogen sulfite pockets there that you have to avoid,” Scally said.

Once used by mill owners, the landfill is located in the Dolby section of East Millinocket and is almost full of mill wastes and other trash. It represented a huge potential liability to any potential mill purchaser.

State legislators agreed to assume ownership of it, and an estimated $17 million liability, from mill owner Brookfield Asset Management despite complaints that the deal was “corporate blackmail.”

The state has several options to explore, said Rosaire Pelletier, a senior forest products industry adviser to the governor’s office who helped put together the Cate Street sale.

“We are going to work with the communities to ensure that they don’t have to spend that much money. There is a lot of work that they can do to help out and it is not going to cost that kind of money,” Pelletier said Friday. “We need to work to ensure the minimization of the expenditures of everybody involved, including the state. It has to be a joint effort.”

One thing is agreed: Cate Street cannot be pressed into overseeing the landfill, Conlogue said.

Cate Street’s first priority is to operate the paper mill profitably and to accomplish other goals, including the construction of other facilities that would draw an additional 220 jobs to the region as early as 2013, Conlogue and Scally said.

The towns’ leaders have asked a key player in the effort to buy the landfill, Rep. Herbert Clark, D-Millinocket, to prepare a bill for submission to the Legislature that would have the state assume landfill management responsibilities starting July 1.

The leaders will meet with state officials in Augusta on Nov. 14 to discuss what can be done in the interim, Conlogue said.

“It’s basically a roll-up-your-sleeves session to see how we are going to get the problem solved,” Scally said.

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