June 02, 2020
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Legislative panel criticizes landfill report

AUGUSTA, Maine — Lawmakers on the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee expressed disappointment Friday with a State Planning Office report about the management and operations of the Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town for its failure to include meaningful input from the Department of Environmental Protection.

The report was requested during the last legislative session as lawmakers grappled with concerns about operations at Juniper Ridge, the state’s only public landfill. Its findings will be used to help determine the need for legislation to change the way the solid waste industry is regulated in Maine and other related concerns.

Established as a public facility in 2003, Juniper Ridge is privately operated through a contract between the State Planning Office and private, for-profit Casella Waste Systems. The DEP exercises regulatory control over solid waste management in Maine, while the State Planning Office oversees the contract with Casella. The report was requested to clarify the respective roles of the two state agencies and to review concerns raised by environmental groups, area residents and host communities.

Martha Freeman, director of the planning office, presented the report to the committee on Friday.

Among other things, the report recommends against investing additional money and staff time in supervising Juniper Ridge. It suggests the planning office develop a dedicated Web site for all public documents and reports related to landfill operations and recommends that the trigger for developing new landfill capacity be changed from six years of remaining capacity to eight years of remaining capacity.

The report also recommends making no change to the fuel services agreement affecting the amount and disposition of construction and demolition residue that gets brought to Juniper Ridge, but suggests “carefully monitoring” the amount of landfill space that is devoted to these materials.

The planning office report makes no recommendation on a proposed expansion of the privately owned Crossroads Landfill in Norridgewock but acknowledges an issue of “fairness” in allowing that facility to do business in the absence of regulations that apply to the state-owned facility.

After Freeman’s presentation, the committee’s House chairman, Rep. Robert Duchesne, D-Hudson, noted that the planning office, like many state agencies, is working on a tight budget and is understaffed. But he said the 57-page document “is not quite the robust report the committee was expecting” and asked why the DEP’s input had not been sought more aggressively. Duchesne said he had checked informally with DEP staff during the report process and was told the planning office had not requested the agency’s participation.

“My gut sense is that none of this happened in a collaborative setting,” Duchesne said.

The committee’s co-chairman, Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, said the panel seeks to settle a perceived conflict of interest arising from the state’s both owning the landfill and regulating Casella’s operations there. The report, he indicated, should have helped define the oversight responsibilities of the planning office and the DEP.

“I feel DEP does all the regulation,” Freeman responded. “We [the planning office] have to oversee the contract [with Casella].” Freeman said the meetings at which the report was developed were open to participation and the DEP was welcome to participate.

“I felt plenty of players were on notice [about the drafting of the report] and that it came down to who was going to reach out to whom,” she said.

A spokeswoman for the DEP said Friday evening that the agency contributed data and consultation to the planning office report but otherwise was “minimally involved.”

“The SPO was clearly the lead on this,” said spokeswoman Donna Gormley. “If the Legislature wants us to prepare a joint report, we will certainly do so.”

Gormley said the department saw the planning office report only “in the last day or two,” after it was completed.

Also speaking at the committee meeting were Peggy Daigle, city manager of Old Town, and Michelle Flewelling, town manager of Norridgewock.

Daigle said the city continues to play an active role in monitoring operations at Juniper Ridge and posts all public information on its Web site. Flewelling said Norridgewock was not asked to participate in the planning office report until mid-December. She asked the committee to delay recommendations on the proposed expansion at the Crossroads Landfill until residents and municipal leaders become more informed.

“The community feels they have fallen through the cracks at the state level,” Flewelling said.

Duchesne said after the meeting that the committee would consider in two weeks whether to draft new legislation changing landfill regulation in Maine.

The report, “Assessment of State-owned Landfill Management and Oversight,” is available online at the Web site of the State Planning office.

On the Web: www.maine.gov/spo/legandgovreports/index.htm


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