Biddeford and Saco granted legal standing in Juniper Ridge Landfill application review

Juniper Ridge landfill with Pushaw Lake backdrop. Photographed Jan. 22, 2012.
Courtesy of R.W. Estela
Juniper Ridge landfill with Pushaw Lake backdrop. Photographed Jan. 22, 2012.
Posted Jan. 18, 2013, at 3:44 p.m.

BIDDEFORD, Maine — The cities of both Biddeford and Saco, among others, have been granted intervener status by the Department of Environmental Protection regarding an application to allow the Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town to accept municipal solid waste, which was formerly processed at a trash incinerator located in downtown Biddeford.

Interveners are allowed to participate more formally in the process of considering whether to grant the application for the license amendment, said DEP spokeswoman Samantha DePoy-Warren; they can ask questions, cross-examine and present evidence.

Any government agency can qualify as an intervener, according to state statute. Any person may also qualify as an intervener if they show they are or may be substantially and directly affected by the proceeding.

Initially, acceptance of municipal solid waste at the state-owned landfill, operated by Casella Waste System’s subsidiary NEWSME Landfill Operations, LLC, was a condition for the sale and closure on the Maine Energy Recovery Company waste-to-energy incinerator.

However, in November, Casella, which also owned the Biddeford trash plant, sold the facility to the City of Biddeford for $6.65 million.

The incinerator closed Dec. 31 and decommissioning of the plant has already begun.

Currently, Biddeford’s waste, along with the waste of 13 other Maine communities that previously contracted with Maine Energy, is being brought to a Casella-owned transfer station in Westbrook. From there, according to Casella spokesman Joe Fusco, trash that cannot be recycled or processed in another manner is taken to the Penobscot Energy Recovery Company, or PERC, in Orrington.

Because the sale and closure of Maine Energy is a done deal and no longer dependent on Juniper Ridge accepting waste from Biddeford and the other southern Maine communities that dumped their trash at the local incinerator, it’s unclear what the city will contribute to the license amendment proceedings, said City Manager John Bubier.

“As long as we’re able to make our way to Westbrook and deliver to Westbrook, we’re going to be happy as clams,” he said. “I don’t see an issue that’s apparent, at least right at this second.”

One community that does have concerns is the City of Old Town, where Juniper Ridge is located. That city was also granted intervener status. According to a November letter from attorney James Katsiaficas in requesting intervener status for the city, he said the community would like to raise concerns on whether granting the application would affect the health, safety and welfare of its residents.

In addition to communities that might be affected, several residents are also interested in the outcome.

Six private citizens have been granted intervener status; one of them is Stillwater resident Ed Spencer, who lives less than two miles from Juniper Ridge.

The type of solid waste that would be allowed if the application to amend the license were approved “is supposed to be prohibited,” said Spencer, in an interview Thursday.

If the amendment is granted, he said, he believes there will be future requests to bring in more waste and additional types of waste than is currently allowed at the Orrington facility.

“Casella is not to be trusted,” said Spencer.

In addition, he said, the application should be denied because, under the state solid waste hierarchy, landfilling trash is the last and least desirable option.

The state supports its policy of the state hierarchy, in which putting waste into a landfill is at the bottom, said Michael Barden, with the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development that manages the Old Town landfill for the state.

However, he said, the application should be looked at in its totality.

For instance, said Barden, it would reduce the amount of out-of-state waste brought into Maine.

Recycling programs in numerous communities — including Biddeford, which would have its first-ever curbside pick-up recycling program — would be improved, he said, and he noted that recycling is above both incineration and landfilling on the state hierarchy.

In addition, said Barden, Casella has entered an agreement with PERC to accept 30,000 tons or more of waste that would be incinerated if the amendment application were approved. This would displace tonnage PERC currently receives from out of state.

Interveners, the applicant and others must appear at a hearing on Jan. 30 in Augusta to schedule the submittal of testimony, objections and rebuttal. A public hearing on the application has been tentatively set for early April, with time set aside for public comment.

Casella doesn’t have any particular concerns currently, said company spokesman Fusco.

“This pretty much is the process, what we expect and what we plan for,” he said.

Fusco said there may be concerns later in the process if objections against the amendment are made.

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