EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Representatives of seven businesses toured the Dolby landfill Wednesday, giving state officials hope that one eventually will save the state $17 million in landfill closure costs and effectively end a dispute between Millinocket officials and Gov. Paul LePage.
The 17 representatives toured the Dolby site off Route 157 after meeting George MacDonald, director of the community assistance program within the State Planning Office, at the town library.
The businesses included landfill operators, trash hauling companies and an engineering firm, MacDonald said. All expressed some level of interest in running Dolby as a landfill, transfer station or as a place from which to obtain landfill paper sludge to use as an energy source.
“I was very pleased with the turnout,” MacDonald said. “I was expecting four or five [businesses], so to have more than that is very encouraging.”
“They were basically just saying that this [tour] gives them a better idea of the economic opportunities they might have here,” he added.
Board of Selectmen Chairman Clint Linscott attended the landfill tour. He said he was “impressed at the interest displayed.”
“I’m curious to see how this interest plays out,” Linscott said. “It’s interesting to see whether [Wednesday’s attendees] are interested landfill operators or just operators interested in seeing what’s going on here.”
State officials are seeking from private firms proposals to own or operate the landfill, which the state assumed ownership of a year ago as part of efforts to find a new owner for the two Katahdin region paper mills.
They are open to almost any business plan, MacDonald said, so long as it makes money, relieves the state of $250,000 in annual landfill operating costs and eventually leads to the closure of the landfill. State estimates have closure costs starting at $17 million.
Private ownership also effectively would end a dispute between LePage and Millinocket officials over landfill operating costs. Both sides agree that the state would pay $150,000 and the two towns $50,000 each in cash or in-kind services such as landfill maintenance but dispute the duration of that agreement.
LePage said March 7 that he would withhold $216,000 of $720,000 in Sudden and Severe Impact funds due Millinocket because he believed town officials broke their word to fund landfill operations annually and that they had overvalued their town’s mill for years.
Millinocket officials said LePage lied, that they agreed only to a one-time payment, and that they believed his withholding the funding violates state law. They also said he had no business questioning the mill’s valuation, which has been part of a TIF agreement among the state, towns and the mill’s owners for years.
Millinocket has retained an attorney but not yet opted to sue the state, awaiting legislative approval of a lawsuit as the law requires.
Town officials have said they could see a commercial landfill bringing a great deal of money and some jobs to the region. So far, the idea has brooked little resistance but not been explored much.
Linscott said many residents have told him they are open to the idea.
Used for decades as a paper mill sludge dump and sometimes for municipal waste, the landfill has about 350,000 cubic yards of landfill space already licensed, with another 4.5 million cubic yards available, MacDonald said.
MacDonald and the firms’ representatives toured the leachate lagoon, pumping stations and the heights of the landfill, which offer a commanding view of Mount Katahdin and the region.
If all goes well, a potential private mill operator will file a final proposal with the proposal for Dolby ownership or operation by April 25, he said.