Residents of the Somerset County town of Hartland have voted to expand their town’s landfill so they can afford to close it in about 20 years, drawing an end to a years-long debate.
Residents on Tuesday voted 190-114 to approve a plan to expand the landfill by 5.3 acres, but eventually close it in the coming decades. A second measure allowing the town to borrow $3.5 million for the landfill expansion received a similar level of support, 192-112.
The referendum vote was a win for Hartland officials, who argued that a “no” vote — which would have resulted in the landfill closing when it filled up, likely in October — would require that the town add $3.87 for every $1,000 in property value to its tax rate for the next 30 years to cover landfill closure costs.
The landfill brings in sludge from Hartland’s wastewater treatment plant but is also authorized to take sewage sludge from other towns, paper mill sludge, ash and demolition debris, non-hazardous contaminated soils, some materials with asbestos, wood waste and automotive shredder residue. The landfill expansion could allow the town to bring in $29 million from accepting waste at the current rate and potentially other waste sources, Town Manager Chris Littlefield has said.
Yet a vocal opposition led by the Hartland Environmental Advisory Team argued that the landfill was hurting the town’s environment and needed to be closed even if it would cost taxpayer money.
Of particular concern were the odors that activists said were emitting from the landfill on to nearby properties. The landfill sometimes gives off odors, but the town had worked to reduce the bad smells by burying smelly material and using deodorizers, Littlefield said last month.
The landfill is located on the west side of Route 43 on Pleasant Street and has been owned and operated by the town under a Maine Department of Environmental Protection license for more than three decades.
About a quarter of Hartland’s registered voters participated in Tuesday’s referendum. By contrast, about 900 voters participated in the presidential election in November, according to state data.
Hartland is a town of about 1,600 that is about a half-hour northeast of Skowhegan. The town is perhaps most familiar to Mainers outside of it for its major employer, a leather tannery that closed last year after orders dropped due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Before it closed, the landfill had accepted a substantial amount of waste from the tannery.