AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Department of Environmental Protection decided Tuesday that increasing the size of Juniper Ridge Landfill would benefit the public, but only if the expansion were limited to less than half the space the landfill’s operators wanted.
Casella Waste Systems Inc., which operates the state-owned landfill in Old Town, wanted to expand by 21.9 million cubic yards, but the DEP’s partial approval states that a 9.35 million cubic yard expansion would suffice.
The DEP decision allows Casella to move forward and draft an application for the 9.35 million cubic yard expansion, which then would undergo another lengthy DEP review process before going to the federal government and city of Old Town for approval. Public meetings, hearings and opportunity for public comment also would need to be scheduled.
Only after gaining approval in each of these reviews could Casella start to expand.
Opinions vary on how quickly the permitting process can be completed, but Rep. Bob Duchesne, D-Hudson, said the consensus is that it could take between four and seven years. Duchesne is the ranking House member of the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
Don Meagher, Casella’s manager for planning and development, said Tuesday evening that he was eager for the process to move forward but that he “wishes it had happened sooner.”
Meagher said he is concerned that Juniper Ridge might run out of capacity before the expansion is approved or built.
“We can’t predict how long [approval] will take because we don’t control the process,” Meagher said. “The DEP does.”
Casella serves the landfill needs of hundreds of municipalities and businesses, some of which it has contractual agreements with, according to Meagher.
“If that new capacity is not available in a timely manner,” Meagher said, “that’s going to be a significant cost and disruption to those customers.”
The landfill in Old Town is projected to be filled to capacity in about five years, according to Casella. The DEP projects that a 9.35 million cubic yard expansion would extend that life by between eight and 10 years, according to the decision.
Casella signed a 30-year contract with the state in 2003 to operate the landfill. Meagher said that could only be done with an expansion and that the state understood that fact when it signed the contract. Still, he said, the state added the public benefit determination requirement in 2009 as a hurdle to landfill expansions.
Meagher said that since the 9.35 million cubic yard expansion won’t last more than a decade, Casella could need to apply for yet another expansion and go through the whole process again in order to fulfill its 30-year contract.
“If that’s the way we have to do it, that’s the way we have to do it,” Meagher said.
Duchesne said he has “mixed feelings” about the DEP’s decision.
On one hand, landfill opponents will feel the state has missed its opportunity to gain control of solid waste policy in the state by allowing the partial expansion, he said. On the other hand, Duchesne applauded the DEP for taking some control and showing “[the state] won’t permit a full-blown expansion without setting benchmarks along the way to be sure they’re following policy.”
Ed Spencer, an Old Town resident and staunch opponent of Casella and its expansion efforts, said, “It’s a bad day for Maine.”
He said he’s disappointed that the DEP has allowed Juniper Ridge to go forward in its bid for an expansion, even if it is a smaller increase than Casella had hoped for.
“In a way, we’re rewarding Casella for bad behavior by approving this first step toward expansion,” Spencer said. He argued that Casella and waste processing facilities in the state, including Casella-owned KTI Bio Fuels in Lewiston, haven’t been following the state’s waste management hierarchy and rely far too heavily on use of the landfill.
The DEP approved the partial expansion under the condition that third-party audits be conducted every two years of processors of construction and demolition debris that anticipate sending more than 10,000 tons of oversized bulky waste per year to Juniper Ridge.
The decision states that the condition was added in response to public comments from members of the public who wanted the DEP to ensure that as much material is being reused and recycled as possible in the state.
Spencer argued that the audits shouldn’t be limited to processors and that Juniper Ridge should undergo a third-party audit of the waste that’s going into the landfill and where that waste is coming from.
During a boisterous public meeting on Oct. 24, 2011, opponents of Juniper Ridge and its expansion proposal decried the landfill’s practice of bringing in waste that originated in other New England states. Juniper Ridge isn’t allowed to take in any out-of-state waste, but under state statute, waste that comes from another state becomes in-state waste once it runs through one of Maine’s waste processing facilities.
Other residents have complained about issues ranging from environmental hazards to increases in truck traffic to unpleasant odors.
The DEP’s full decision may be viewed at http://maine.gov/dep/waste/juniperridge/.