AUGUSTA, Maine — A late-session bill to facilitate the closing of Maine Energy Recovery Co. in Biddeford that also would transfer ownership of Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town to Casella Waste Systems Inc. has drawn criticism from a state legislator who believes the effort is being rushed.
LD 1911, sponsored by Sen. Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, requires that the transfer of Juniper Ridge’s ownership from the state to Casella must occur before MERC can be sold or shut down.
Sen. Elizabeth Schneider, D-Orono, argued that the “11th-hour bill” proposes significant changes to a controversial, complex subject — waste management — and comes so late in the legislative session that the public will have little chance for input. The legislature is scheduled to adjourn on Wednesday, April 18, which leaves little time to carefully examine, consider and discuss the proposal, Schneider said.
“Citizens at this point have no idea and then they have to react very quickly,” Schneider said Saturday.
Hobbins did not return a call requesting comment Saturday afternoon.
The deadline for submitting a bill passed on Sept. 30, but exceptions are allowed if both the Speaker of the House Robert Nutting and Senate President Kevin Raye sign off to allow a ballot to go before the 10-member bipartisan Legislative Council. She said she asked Raye to not allow the ballot to circulate this late in the session.
Schneider said she was “stunned” to see the ballot being circulated late last week in spite of her objections.
The ballot passed successfully through the council despite Schneider’s efforts convince a group of five lawmakers to vote against it, she said.
“I know any matters having to do with dumps, landfills and Juniper Ridge have largely been very contentious and are of great concern to the citizens in our region and beyond,” Schneider wrote in an email to municipal leaders in her district.
“It’s such a messy issue for our area,” she said during an interview.
The bill authorizes the executive branch to negotiate terms of the deal, including the transfer of ownership at Juniper Ridge, as well as the shutdown of MERC and the transfer of ownership to the City of Biddeford. It also would terminate the operating services agreement between Casella and the state.
The bill also would allow Juniper Ridge to take in an amount of solid waste not to exceed the amount of waste that was processed at MERC. MERC General Manager Ken Robbins said Thursday that the facility expects to process 260,000 tons of waste this year.
The controversy over expansion proposals at Juniper Ridge and many years of debate over the future of MERC make this a complex issue, and changes as drastic as shifts in ownership should be carefully considered, Schneider argued.
“This is bad, this is bad public process,” Schneider said, adding that she would continue fighting against the bill this weekend and into next week. The bill would be heard before the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, but Schneider said she isn’t sure it will get to that point.
“There is no good or valid reason to rush this bill, and it can wait until the next legislature convenes,” Schneider said.