ORONO, Maine — Half an hour into a contentious meeting about a proposed 143-acre expansion of Old Town’s Juniper Ridge Landfill on Monday night, the moderator from the Department of Environmental Protection had threatened to have several audience members thrown out for interrupting presentations or stepping out of line.
The audience members were asked to keep their comments about the expansion proposal to four minutes in length and related to three criteria to determine if there is public benefit to the state:
• Whether the expansion meets immediate, short-term or long-term state landfill capacity needs.
• Whether it’s consistent with the state waste management recycling plan.
• Whether it’s inconsistent with local, regional or state waste collection, storage, transportation or disposal activities.
The audience wasn’t having it.
“Let him speak!” shouted several audience members after an Old Town resident was asked to step away from the microphone after he went over the time limit and brought up issues not related to the criteria.
“Your time is up, sir,” said Malcolm Burson, moderator and associate director of policy services at the Maine DEP.
“Casella’s time is up!” shouted audience members lining the walls of the Black Bear Inn conference room because there were no seats left.
Casella Waste Systems and Department of Environmental Protection representatives met in front of more than 200 area residents Monday night at the Black Bear Inn to discuss whether the expansion would provide a significant public benefit for the people of Maine.
If the DEP determines that a substantial public benefit exists, Casella will move on to the next step — filing an application for a license to build infrastructure and begin the expansion.
The plan would triple Juniper Ridge’s capacity — from about 10 million to 32 million cubic yards, according to Casella.
The state needs more room for its trash, said Don Meagher, Casella’s manager of planning and development.
Meagher gave a presentation early in the meeting to inform the audience and DEP of its plans for the expansion. He paused several times after people in the audience repeatedly shouted out comments and questions or called for him to “get out of Maine.”
More than 300 communities send some of their waste to Juniper Ridge, according to Casella, but space at the landfill is projected to run out in five years. The entirety of Maine’s landfill space is expected to be filled within the decade.
“You then have to ask yourself the question, ‘If we’re going to run out [of landfill space], how long does it take you to go all the way through the approval process and build capacity before your time runs out,’” Meagher said before the meeting.
Audience members approached the podium to comment for more than three hours after Meagher’s presentation.
Speakers expressed concern and outrage over pollution, water quality, smell and tax devaluation.
Several in the audience called for an audit of what sort of trash Casella takes in and where it comes from.
Casella gets its waste from Maine facilities, but many of those businesses draw their waste from other New England states, anti-expansion speakers argued.
Several people at the meeting distributed a sheet from KTI Biofuels of Lewiston, one of the facilities Casella draws its waste from, which stated that about 91 percent of the trash they send to Casella after processing it originated outside of Maine.
Casella has said that none of its trash comes from out of state as “out-of-state waste” is defined by state statute because the out-of-state trash becomes Maine waste once it’s processed and shipped in Maine.
If waste that originated out-of-state weren’t accepted, audience members said, there would not yet be any need for an expansion.
The DEP has 60 days after accepting the application to make a decision about whether there is a significant public benefit to the plan, but it plans to seek an extension so it can thoroughly review the 206-page document. The DEP expects to make a decision by the end of the year
Casella submitted a similar application in 2009, which it withdrew after a draft denial by the DEP. Several people in the audience called for another rejection, but Meagher said he was confident the problems the DEP had with the last proposal had been addressed in the new application.
The DEP will accept public comments on the public benefit of the proposed expansion through Nov. 21. Letters may be sent to Cyndi Darling of the DEP, 106 Hogan Road, Suite 6, Bangor, ME 04401, or Patricia Aho, DEP commissioner, 17 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333
Meagher said the state is running out of time and space for its waste and more delays will mean the state will struggle or fail to meet its waste services needs.
“The public benefit we’re talking about here is having a solid waste management system that works,” Meagher said before the meeting.
To view a graphic showing the inner workings of the Juniper Ridge landfill, click here.