Decisions on potential Casella investigation, landfill gas pipeline to UMaine pushed back

Aerial photo of Juniper Ridge landfill in Old Town on April 6, 2012.
R.W. Estela
Aerial photo of Juniper Ridge landfill in Old Town on April 6, 2012.
Posted May 29, 2012, at 5:08 p.m.

OLD TOWN, Maine — The Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee will wait until late June to consider whether to review and audit Casella Waste Systems Inc.’s operations in Maine.

In early April, Athens resident Hillary Lister drafted a letter to the committee that highlighted a series of complaints shared for years by Casella opponents around Old Town, home to Casella-operated and state-owned Juniper Ridge Landfill, and across the state.

The letter calls for an investigation by the state Office of Program Evaluation & Government Accountability.

The committee was slated to discuss the request during its May 25 meeting but ultimately decided more time was needed to review an influx of documents, letters and data submitted by Casella opponents and representatives in the days leading up to the meeting.

“We don’t usually get so much unsolicited information coming to the committee at this particular juncture,” OPEGA Director Beth Ashcroft said Tuesday.

OPEGA hasn’t had a chance to review all of the documents or summarize them for the committee, Ashcroft said, so she and the committee agreed that it would be “prudent” to hold further discussions on a potential investigation until a future meeting, probably one scheduled for June 29.

At an April 10 meeting, the oversight committee decided to gather more comments and input before deciding whether to take a deeper look into Casella’s operation of Juniper Ridge Landfill.

Another landfill-related decision — the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s consideration of a landfill gas pipeline — also has been put on the back burner until next month.

EcoGas LLC, a Casella subsidiary, hopes to build a seven-mile pipeline that would bring methane gas from Juniper Ridge Landfill to the University of Maine in Orono.

Bangor Gas Co. filed a petition to intervene in EcoGas’ talks with the PUC and, during an April 25 initial case conference with a commission staff lawyer, a Bangor Gas attorney said the company believed a pipeline deal between UMaine and Casella would harm Bangor Gas ratepayers and lead to “degradation of our franchise.”

The PUC attorney advised representatives of both groups to sit down to negotiate and report back to the commission by May 21.

The two companies failed to iron out a deal by the May 21 deadline and sought a three-week extension, which was approved.

Don Meagher, Casella’s manager of planning and development, said he couldn’t reveal any details of the negotiations, but he did say EcoGas would continue to attempt to reach some sort of arrangement that would advance the pipeline efforts.

“What we’re trying to do is respond to the concerns and the issues they raised in their intervention such that the project can move forward,” Meagher said.

EcoGas and Bangor Gas will report back on the settlement discussions by June 11.

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