OLD TOWN, Maine — Last month’s decision to close a waste-to-energy incinerator in Biddeford is likely to send southern Maine trash and the controversy it breeds to a landfill in Old Town.
Biddeford’s City Council approved a $6.65 million deal in August that would shut down the Maine Energy Recovery Co. incinerator — resolving a quarter-century of complaints from residents about the smell and truck traffic created by the downtown facility — and put the building in the hands of the city. The decision was met with applause, hoots and hollers from residents at the meeting, according to the Journal Tribune.
That deal, with a closing date of Nov. 15, is contingent upon licensing and permitting that would allow the Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town to take in unprocessed municipal solid waste, or typical curbside trash. The landfill now takes in ash and residue from MERC, as well as a limited amount of solid waste it uses as a “soft layer” in cells.
The state Bureau of General Services, which has been designated as the owner of Juniper Ridge since the elimination of the State Planning Office, and Casella Waste Systems Inc., which operates the landfill and owns MERC, have begun the process of applying to amend their license to allow trash from Maine communities that would have gone to the Biddeford incinerator to be sent to the Old Town landfill.
The Maine Department of Protection, which will decide whether to approve the application, will not be able to process it, hold hearings and make a decision by the Nov. 15 MERC closing date, according to DEP spokeswoman Samantha Depoy-Warren.
Because the application likely won’t be approved by Nov. 15, “both parties are going to have to decide what that means” for the future of MERC, Don Meagher, Casella’s manager for planning and development, said Wednesday. Whether the lack of an application delays the shutdown of the facility or the sale goes through as planned without an application is up to negotiations between Casella and Biddeford, he added.
After the MERC shutdown, Casella wants to send the Maine waste that would have been burned there to Juniper Ridge.
That proposal bothers some residents in Old Town.
“Originally we were told that there would be no [municipal solid waste] coming into this landfill,” Old Town resident Ed Spencer said Wednesday. “That’s a major broken promise.”
Spencer said he’s pleased that Biddeford managed to find a way to shut down its downtown incinerator, but Casella’s proposal would “overturn, on a grand scale, Maine’s solid waste policy.”
According to the Maine DEP’s Waste Management Hierarchy, landfilling is at the bottom of the priority list when it comes to handling trash — below reducing, reusing, recycling composting and burning waste to create energy, which was MERC’s role.
Depoy-Warren said the DEP plans to make the application review process as transparent as possible, which is why the DEP’s timeline won’t meet the Nov. 15 date Biddeford and Casella had aimed for.
The DEP received the first pieces of the application on Sept. 12 and would need to accept it as complete on Oct. 3. At that point, the document will become public and available on the DEP’s website and in several area town offices, according to Depoy-Warren.
After Oct. 3, the public has 20 days to submit responses and request a public hearing, which DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho likely would support based on the effect this application would have on statewide waste management, according to Depoy-Warren.
Spencer said Wednesday he “for sure” would call for a public hearing.
Further complicating questions facing Maine’s waste disposal future, Aho responded to the Juniper Ridge application with a letter sent to representatives from the state and Casella saying the department would have to revisit a Jan. 31 public benefit determination that approved a partial expansion of the landfill.
In its expansion application, the state and Casella made no mention or suggestion that any additional municipal solid waste would be disposed of in the landfill, drastically changing the waste management circumstances that led to the DEP’s backing of the expansion.
“The facts have changed as a result of this new waste stream,” Depoy-Warren said.
Meagher said Wednesday that the forthcoming application would place a 123,000-ton annual cap on the amount of municipal solid waste that could be disposed of in the landfill.
Meagher said the application would show very little increase in tonnage going into the landfill. While Juniper Ridge would take in more solid waste, it wouldn’t be taking in the nearly 43 tons of residue and 50 tons of ash that was produced by the MERC incinerator.
“In almost every case, there’s no change.” Meagher said.
Depoy-Warren said the DEP review of the application would be as thorough and transparent as possible, but “no matter what decision we make, not everyone is going to be happy.”