OLD TOWN, Maine — Locals, legislators and people just interested in knowing where trash in Maine goes went to the Juniper Ridge Landfill open house on Saturday to learn all they could about the state-owned landfill.
“The Legislature is going to be talking trash this fall,” state Rep. Gay Grant, D-Gardiner, said after a bus tour of the facility, explaining why she and fellow state Rep. Janice Cooper, D-Yarmouth, were at the event.
The two representatives, who are both serving their first terms in the House of Representatives, are on the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, and have been appointed to a subcommittee that will study solid waste policy under a bill, LD694, that was carried over.
“We didn’t finish it,” said Cooper. “We felt it needed more study.”
The study will determine whether changes are needed, said Grant, who added they both wanted to see things firsthand.
“This landfill is owned by the people of Maine and it’s up to us to make sure [working policies are in place],” she said.
Mainers worry about what goes into the landfill, where the trash comes from and the Old Town site’s capacity, Grant said, adding she wants to encourage recycling policies so that anything that can be recycled is recycled.
“There is value in these items,” she said, referring to cardboard, paper, metal, glass and other items people throw away. “We only want to put stuff in this landfill that can’t be diverted someplace else.”
“Trash is now a commodity,” state Sen. Andre E. Cushing III of Hampden said while talking to Grant and Cooper.
The two state representatives learned on the tour that Casella has reached an agreement with Bangor Gas and the University of Maine to move methane gas from Juniper Ridge Landfill to UMaine’s Steam Plant, where the gas would be used to run boilers and create heat for campus buildings.
“The contract is in place to sell it to the university — but getting it over there has been the problem,” Jeremy Labbe, engineer and environmental compliance manager for Casella, said while giving the tour.
The university and Casella reached the fuel deal in November 2011 after about three years of discussions. Bangor Gas, which has opposed the project for proprietary reasons, has now agreed to build and operate the pipeline, he said.
“We’re burning off [the equivalent of] about 8,000 gallons of heating oil right now. It’s a waste,” Labbe said.
Made of 12-inch-diameter, high-density polyethylene pipe, the proposed gas pipeline would run south to Route 43 before turning east on Route 43 to the intersection with College Avenue Extension, where it would continue on to the Steam Plant.
The two state representatives said they were impressed with the facility, after watching the “trash-to-energy” facility in operation.
“What we’ve always heard is that, ‘We all know landfill leak,’” Grant said. “They took pains today to show us that information is dated.”
The significant decrease in the number of complaints is proof that steps taken by Casella since opening in 2005 to contain the trash smell at the approximately 70-acre landfill are working, Cooper said.
“The complaints have gone down from 200 [annually] to 11 a year,” she said.
“The management has learned from what happened in Hampden,” Cushing said of Pine Tree Landfill, which opened under another name in 1975 and stopped accepting solid waste in 2010 after years of controversy over environmental damage complaints. It is now capped and used as a transfer area for Casella.
David and Cathy Garnett, who live about a mile from Juniper Ridge, said on the bus tour that they can sometimes smell the biowaste as it’s trucked to the site past their home. They decided to go to the open house because they have always been curious about what goes on at the landfill.
“I had never been up here,” David Garnett, a former assistant fire chief for Old Town, said after the tour, which went to the top of the landfill. “Now, I kinda got a better idea of how they handle everything.”
The couple said that when trucks filled with biowaste and municipal sludge pass their home, it is pungent.
“They could re-route that any day,” Garnett said. “Especially when it’s 90 degrees in the summer. It’s awful.”
The smell of the decaying trash creates a rotten egg smell that could be detected at the top of the open cell during the tour as huge bulldozers moved and compacted the debris.
Grant said she’ll have no problem remembering that distinct smell when it comes time to conduct the solid waste study in the coming months or when residents testify, if a new policy is proposed.
When the tour got to the top of the landfill, Labbe informed the group that, “We’re going to go up another 65 feet” under the current footprint.
Don Meagher, Casella’s manager of planning and development, said the company has already applied for and received partial approval for a public benefit determination study, needed to expand capacity. He added, however, that “we’re at least a year, maybe more” away from filing the expansion paperwork.
Meagher said Casella held the open house to educate people.
“People think landfills are the way they were 30 years ago, digging a big hole and pushing things into it,” he said. “There is a lot more that goes into it, including where to locate, how to design it, how to build it and how it’s operated. There is no substitute for seeing it firsthand.”
Just before Garrett walked off with his wife to check out the half-dozen information displays at the open house, the Old Town resident said he was pleased with what he learned.
“I guess I’m a little more confident about it,” he said.