Old Town's Transfer Station, where residents can drop off recycling and home of the town's construction and demolition debris landfill seen from the hill that is the landfill. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / The Penobscot Times

OLD TOWN, Maine — The city of Old Town wants to shutter its remaining unlined landfill, but how exactly it plans to close it would be a first for the state, if approved. 

The city filed an application with Maine Department of Environmental Protection on July 19 requesting to close Old Town’s construction and demolition debris landfill that has been inactive since 2014. 

Typically, towns elect to cover a landfill and seal the contents in the ground, but in Old Town’s case, officials want to completely unearth a pile of garbage and haul it 4.8 miles down the road to another landfill. 

The move would mark a departure from the way Maine towns and cities have handled the closing of landfills since the state started encouraging it more than 30 years ago. 

City Manager Bill Mayo said landfills like the one Old Town wants to get rid of are a potential liability as they are generally unlined — meaning as the materials inside the pit decompose they could produce dangerous chemicals or toxic materials that could go straight into the ground, contaminating soil. 

The plan is to use a large excavator to dig out the waste and haul it by trucks to Juniper Ridge Landfill — a state of the art and state-owned facility located on Old Town and Alton property. 

Here, the construction and demolition debris materials such as wood waste, concrete and brick can safely sit in a lined landfill that has more protection for the soil underneath it, Mayo said. 

“This is pretty unique, to want to essentially dig it up and bring it to another landfill,” Molly King, a project manager with Maine DEP’s Solid Waste Landfills, Licensing & Compliance, said. 

Generally, towns engineer a cap which will cover the fill completely and minimize the amount of potential chemical contamination in the surrounding soil, King said. 

But, as Juniper Ridge is on Old Town property, the city is allowed to use a certain amount of space in the landfill, which is where all the waste — up to 1,000 tons — will go, Mayo said. 

There is a financial incentive to closing the landfi,ll too. Through a program administered by DEP, some landfill closure costs will be reimbursed back to the cities and towns. In Old Town’s case, the department is expected to reimburse about 75 percent of the costs totaling up to $350,000, Mayo said.  

The move of the landfill from one location to another is a win-win for everyone involved because the waste will be moved to a more environmentally secure location while Old Town has a little bit more flexibility to reclaim the green space that once was the CDD landfill, Mayo said. 

Although the way Old Town wants to close the landfill is not the norm, King said from the DEP side of things the process will stay the same, which includes a review of the application, the engineering of the plan and a geological review. 

The timeline Old Town has laid out is to start the work in mid- to late-November, or even early December, to complete it by early 2022. 

DEP has a full calendar year to process the application after it is accepted, and as Old Town recently submitted its application, it has not yet been approved. 

Maine has been working to close landfills that pose hazards to public health or the environment and remove those hazards thanks to legislation passed in 1988. The legislation created a program that helps municipalities close landfills through a cost-share/reimbursement program managed by DEP. 

Sawyer Loftus

Sawyer Loftus is a reporter covering Old Town, Orono and the surrounding areas. A recent graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he's worked for Vermont Public Radio, The...