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Juniper Ridge panel asks DEP commissioner for more involvement in landfill decisions

R.W. Estela | BDN
R.W. Estela | BDN
The Juniper Ridge landfill is seen in an aerial photo on April 6, 2012.
By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff

OLD TOWN, Maine — Members of the Juniper Ridge Landfill Advisory Committee and area residents left a meeting Wednesday night with few new answers from Maine Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Patricia Aho, but they did get a promise for more open, effective communication.

The committee invited Aho to come to Old Town with the intent of asking for more information about the DEP’s late January decision that a partial expansion of the landfill, which straddles the Old Town-Alton border, would benefit the public.

Aho avoided most questions related to the public benefit determination because three appeals of the DEP’s decision are pending and will be considered by the Board of Environmental Protection on May 3.

Ed Spencer of Old Town, who BEP Chairwoman Susan Lessard decided has standing to appeal the DEP’s public benefit determination because he is an “aggrieved person,” will state his case before the full board.

Thomas Doyle, an attorney representing the State Planning Office and Casella Waste Systems Inc., which operates Juniper Ridge for the state, has appealed Lessard’s finding of standing for Spencer and will request a reversal by the full board.

Charles Leithiser of Old Town, whose standing was rejected by Lessard, will appeal the chairwoman’s decision before the board.

“What’s in the document is in the document, so that’s easy enough for all of you to know,” Aho said during the meeting, referring to the public benefit determination.

Despite the fact that Aho avoided most questions about the public benefit determination, some who attended the meeting were pleased with its results.

“I thought it was positive because anytime there’s direct interaction between our local advisory committee and the head of the DEP, that’s a good thing,” Spencer said. “There needs to be better communication all around.”

The landfill advisory committee was established by the Legislature in 2004 to serve as a liaison between members of the public and the parties involved in Juniper Ridge’s management and oversight, but members of the committee say they have been unused and left in the dark more often than not.

Committee Chairman Peter Dufour of Old Town pointed to the now defunct LD 1911, an after-deadline bill that surfaced with less than two weeks left before the close of the legislative session.

Dufour said no one on the committee was aware of the bill until the evening of April 6, when they received word from Sen. Elizabeth Schneider, D-Orono, who was bothered by the timing of the “eleventh-hour bill” and worked through last weekend to stop it.

LD 1911 proposed the sale of Juniper Ridge Landfill to Casella as a step toward shutting down the Maine Energy Recovery Co. incinerator and selling the facility to Biddeford. The solid waste that would have been burned in the incinerator would have to be brought to Juniper Ridge.

The bill was postponed indefinitely April 9.

“LD 1911, in the way it was drafted, raised a number of questions, there’s no doubt about that,” Aho said.

She said the effort in the Biddeford area to close MERC will have a lot of “moving parts.”

“We need to look at all of those parts to determine what is best for the state of Maine and what is best for you and this landfill here as well,” Aho said.

Committee members said they fully expect to see a similar bill at some point early in the next legislative session.

Wednesday’s meeting covered many persistent concerns held by residents and landfill opponents. Attendees asked Aho, who took her post in February 2011, for her thoughts on issues ranging from water quality testing to what ownership and oversight of the landfill would look like after the State Planning Office is eliminated.

Aho agreed that one of the most contentious issues — the state’s definition of in-state waste, which allows waste to cross state lines and be processed in a Maine facility, thus becoming in-state waste that is allowed to go into a Maine landfill — could be reviewed and reconsidered in future legislation.

The commissioner stressed that she wanted to keep up to date with the concerns of the committee and hoped to get its members more involved in decisions and debates related to Casella and Juniper Ridge.

Members of the advisory committee are scheduled to meet with the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee on May 25 to discuss the potential for a future investigation into Casella’s operations in the state.

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