OLD TOWN, Maine — Nearly two hours into a two-part public information meeting Tuesday afternoon and evening, officials from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection had yet to hear much in the way of support for a controversial plan to build a landfill and recycling facility in Argyle Township or Greenbush.
The secure disposal facility is being planned as part of an integrated solid waste management system to be implemented in 2018 by the Municipal Review Committee, a nonprofit organization representing 183 Maine communities, MRC Executive Director Greg Lounder said at the start of the meeting, moderated by DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho.
As the MRC sees it, the public will benefit from its operating a landfill in conjunction with a recycling and fuel processing facility in Argyle or Greenbush to be used only by its member towns.
There is less than 11 years of landfill capacity remaining in Maine, according to the March 2013 Waste Generation and Disposal Capacity Report given to the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee. The Municipal Review Committee says it is moving on its proposal because the clock is ticking.
Under state law, before a disposal facility submits an application for the license needed to construct a new landfill, the DEP commissioner first must determine that the proposal provides a “substantial public benefit.”
Many people from the area, however, oppose the plan because of concerns about potential harm to the environment and quality of life. About 150 people turned up, with roughly 60 of them speaking — none of them in favor.
Some of the strongest opposition Tuesday came from members of the Penobscot Nation. They say a landfill would adversely affect their ancestral lands as well as the Penobscot River and Birch Stream, both of which they say are critical to their ability maintain their sustenance-based lifestyle.
Argyle Township is part of former Penobscot territory reacquired by the tribe under the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act, Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis said.
“That promise was also based on … its enhancement of cultural practices critical to the identity of our people, including the ability to hunt, fish and practice our federally-protected subsistence lifestyle,” he said. “We have the right for our resources also to be in a condition that is conducive to our lifestyle.
“As I mentioned, all our lands are protected against encroachment or alienation,” Francis said. “Nothing will alienate the Penobscot Nation from its territory like this proposed project and projects like it. Its effect on wildlife and the natural resource system in this territory — we may be able to still own it and we may be able to still live on it — but for all purposes it would render the land useless for the Penobscot people.”
Francis delivered to state officials a tribal resolution “not only opposing this proposal but mandating us to aggressively utilize every resource and federal protection available to us to stop any more harm to a people that have face huge disparities today in its effort to fully regains itself, again, a promise the 1980 land claims made to use, signed by the United States as well.”
Tribal member Jennifer Neptune of Orono said she is a basket maker and herbalist who also forages for food along Birch Stream in Argyle, where generations of Penobscots have hunted, fished and gathered.
“So it’s really important to us. … We have the responsibility of trying to protect that area,” she said, adding, “We have nowhere else to go. This is our home. We have been pushed to the islands in the river.”
Tribe members aren’t the only opponents. Also against the landfill are people who moved to the area for its natural beauty and farmers, including Galen Young of Argyle, who said the landfill’s access road would cut right through his farm, bringing to it 80 to 100 garbage trucks a day.
Representatives of the Maine Toxics Center and the Natural Resource Council of Maine also spoke against the project.
One of the only speakers who did not flat-out oppose the landfill was Joey Dunn of Howland, who noted that 27 years ago he opposed a plan to build a landfill in Howland.
“I was totally against it because of the location. Like [Chief Francis] says, it was right next to a stream and it was finally voted down,” he said.
“That was one of the reasons I got into politics,” he said. “I know what these people feel like to [see a plan to] bring a landfill into their town. Our townspeople fought it.”
Despite that, he said, “I’m keeping an open mind about this landfill. Nobody likes a landfill in our town but we have to have one someplace. I know these people will fight just like we fought but, like I said, I’m keeping an open mind.”
“One of the things I’m against is out-of-state trash,” he said. “If they could keep this for in-state trash, it would make a lot of people happy and prolong the life of the landfill.”
All documents received by the DEP related to the public benefit determination including the application and public comments are available online at http://www.maine.gov/dep/waste/mrc/index.html.
Interested parties may be placed on a list to receive updates related to the application and its review by contacting DEP Project Analyst Karen Knuuti at 941-4561 or email@example.com.