AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine House approved a bill on Thursday that would make it easier for private commercial landfills to expand, although some lawmakers said the state needs to change its habits to reduce the need for more landfill space.
LD 879, a carry-over bill from last session, was submitted primarily to allow the Crossroads Landfill in Norridgewock to increase its ability to collect waste.
As written, LD 879 authorizes “a commercial landfill facility — that is not under an order or agreement to close — to expand if the proposed expansion is contiguous with the existing facility and is located on property owned by the person holding the commercial solid waste disposal facility license.”
Crossroads, owned and operated by Waste Management Inc., is the only facility in Maine that fits that definition.
The bill was amended in the House to include provisions that allow for a thorough review process, including public hearings, when a landfill seeks to expand. It passed in a 102-43 vote on Thursday, with mostly Democrats voting against the proposal, and now goes to the Senate.
Rep. Bob Duchesne, D-Hudson, whose district includes the Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town, said the bill re-establishes marketplace competition but still gives the state some control.
“It’s not the best solution, it’s just the least worst,” he said.
In the late 1990s, the state granted an exemption to Casella Waste Systems to expand the Pine Tree Landfill in Hampden within the existing footprint. That facility is now at capacity and has been closed for more than two years.
Proponents said the new bill helps level the playing field with Casella, which also recently applied for an expansion of its Juniper Ridge Landfill. That expansion in Old Town has not received the final go-ahead and is expected to see push-back from the local community.
The Norridgewock landfill is still about a decade from reaching its capacity, but the expansion application process often takes many years.
During public hearings, critics said LD 879 incentivizes landfills, which should be the last option in the solid waste hierarchy.
Rep. Melissa Walsh-Innes, D-Yarmouth, who voted against the measure, said Thursday that she fears that the bill will allow landfills to take in more unchecked out-of-state waste. Already, she said, state law says if waste is processed in Maine, it’s in-state waste, even though she argued that much of it originates outside of Maine.
Rep. Sharon Treat, D-Hallowell, also feared that the bill would allow too much expansion.
“I don’t want to see the state turn into the dumping ground for the Northeast,” she said. “I don’t think this measure is the way to go.”
But Rep. Jim Parker, R-Veazie, said he thinks the criticism of out-of-state waste is flawed. He said having more landfill options is better for Mainers.
“Does it make sense to take all of western Maine’s waste to eastern Maine?” he said. That could happen, he said, if Old Town expands but Norridgewock does not.
Still, Walsh-Innes acknowledged that Maine continues to need landfills because “We are not doing enough to create alternatives.”
Rep. Denise Harlow, D-Portland, agreed.
“We may not need to expand landfills further if we change our habits,” she said.