The town of East Millinocket wants to assume ownership of the land that the former Great Northern Paper Co. mill used for decades to dump its waste.
The town hopes to take over some portion of the land from the state, its current owner, for some sort of business use to help along the development the Katahdin-region economy still reeling from the loss of its two paper mills, said Peggy Daigle, chairwoman of the East Millinocket Board of Selectmen and a former town administrator.
Rep. Steve Stanley, D-Medway, has submitted legislation, LD 744, that would allow the state to sell the Dolby Landfill, which it has owned since 2011. The bill was referred to the Legislature’s Committee on State and Local Government on Feb. 12, where it remains under review, Stanley said.
The landfill is best known as the place where, for decades, the former Great Northern Paper Co. dumped wastes from its papermaking processes and other debris. It hasn’t been used for waste disposal since 1993.
“For over 100 years, the town was beholden to the paper company who owned all the land,” she said. “We certainly want to be in charge of our own destiny and having ownership of this land will help us achieve this.”
“The only thing I know is that we want to open it up so people can do something with it,” Stanley said.
The landfill is located off Route 157 about 2.5 miles northwest of downtown East Millinocket. The state assuming ownership of the landfill was a crucial part of the state’s effort to facilitate Cate Street Capital’s purchase of the former GNP mill sites in Millinocket and East Millinocket for $1 in the fall of 2011.
Cate Street is the firm that leveraged $16 million in public money for its failed restart of East Millinocket’s Great Northern Paper Co. mill.
The Dolby property, about 3,384 acres, would come with at least one potential hitch. The state owns the property but not the timber rights to the land, said David Heidrich, director of communications and senior policy adviser for the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services.
It was not clear to Heidrich how the lack of timber rights would encumber the development of the land, he said.
The land has been subject to development proposals before. A former Millinocket Town Council member in 2015 proposed creating an all-terrain-vehicle park using some of the landfill land. More recently, a developer has proposed turning the land into a mixed housing, recreation and commercial area — a proposal the town would be willing to entertain if the idea makes sense, Daigle said.
“When the board heard of this legislation, we believed that if the state were to give this land away, it should first be offered to the town,” Daigle said.
The bill does not specifically state that the land would be sold or transferred to East Millinocket, only that the state could offer it for sale.
Heidrich said it remains unclear whether the town would purchase the landfill or accept ownership of it in a transfer, but the state typically sells properties according to their fair-market value.
No vote on the bill has seen set.