Brunswick's lax landfill oversight irks Durham neighbors

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The view of the Graham Hill Landfill in Brunswick from a nearby home in Durham. The wind is depositing large quantities of trash along the facility’s perimeter, frustrating neighbors.Windblown litter carpets Durham resident Megan Nalbandian’s wooded property, which abuts Brunswick’s Graham Road Landfill.Windblown trash from Brunswick’s Graham Road Landfill has accumulated around the outer perimeter, angering abutters in Durham. Litter is especially bad along the eastern boundary on this path next to the fence.

BRUNSWICK — Durham residents who live near the Graham Road Landfill say they are concerned and, in some cases, sickened by an accumulation of trash and waste outside the dump’s fenced-in border.

Many said they want more diligent clean-up protocols from Brunswick, which lacks a routine program to monitor litter.

“It’s just disgusting, it’s horrible,” said Megan Nalbandian, who lives on Deervale Road in Durham and whose property touches a northern boundary of the 16-acre landfill.

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Litter has been an issue since she and her husband moved to the road six years ago, Nalbandian said, “(but) I feel like it has gotten worse.”

On Monday afternoon, garbage studded a cleared but overgrown portion of the property about 30 yards behind her home, where there’s a panoramic view of the landfill’s trash summit.

Trash carpeted the forest floor beside the clearing: a blue Oreo cookie package, a crushed yogurt container, a large bone among densely packed waste on the ground; plastic bags and scraps hung like ornaments on tree branches.

The eastern portion, closer to the Androscoggin River, is worse, neighbors said, and trash has formed its own kind of river along the perimeter path along the fence.

“I understand that (trash) is going to blow over, but there should be someone who comes over and cleans it up,” Lance Jochem, Nalbandian’s neighbor, added Tuesday. “That irritates me more than the trash.”

Brunswick officials were surprised to learn about the situation – although they acknowledged that complaints about litter and odor are not new. They responded with alarm and assurances that the litter would be cleared.

There is no regular clean-up program to clear the debris that spills outside the landfill perimeter, Public Works Director John Foster said Tuesday.

Rather, the town hires temporary workers to collect litter, and when they have the time, public works crews do it themselves, he said.

Usually, Foster added, there is a great effort to clean up in the spring after the snow has melted. Foster said he hasn’t received an update from a landfill attendant – or neighbors, for that matter – about trash that’s now problematic.

“Sounds like we’ve been a little lax on the job and we’ve got to get down there and that’s what we’re going to do,” he said.

High winds are usually what cause trash to fly over the fence, which may be happening more frequently as the 30-year-old landfill grows taller.

The rate at which it’s growing has rapidly increased since July, although someday it will stop completely: Brunswick is in the process of shutting down the facility over the next four years since it fell out of compliance with tighter EPA restrictions created in 2004.

Specifically, the system of lagoons that treat the dirty rainwater flowing through the trash heap – called leachate – aren’t capable of filtering the ammonia to the now-lower regulated levels. The treated water is currently discharged into the Androscoggin River.

“It exceeds the allowable standard, but again, people (and the DEP) will tell you it’s not a water quality issue,” Town Manager John Eldridge said, noting that the sewer district is permitted to discharge three times the amount of ammonia into the same river.

To generate additional revenue to pay for the closure – most of which will be subsidized by the state – the town has nearly tripled its intake of trash since July.

It is set to take in around 12,000-14,000 tons of trash a year, up from the 4,500 tons it used to average, Foster said. It has a total capacity of 400,000 tons, 330,000 tons of which has been filled since it was built in 1984.

In December 2021, it is expected to close, according to a schedule Eldridge has put together with the DEP.

Eldridge said it’s common to pile trash high as landfills prepare to close; he, Foster, and Durham residents speculated that the height could make trash more likely to float off the property.

Neighbors said birds are often responsible for dropping items like bones and scraps on their lawns; on Monday, gulls cawed and circled the summit of the dump heap, where a compactor truck was parked.

At least one bird carcass was rotting on Nalbandian’s property, which she said was common and distressing.

“Our Labrador retriever, we found out, cannot eat what a bird can eat,” Bunny Siegel, who has lived on Deervale Road since 2000, said Tuesday.

But Foster attributed most litter to the wind, and explained that trash is likely worse on the eastern side of the perimeter because the wind more often blows in that direction.

“We’ve addressed this issue in the past before but it hasn’t been recent. It’s not an unusual issue for landfills,” he said.

Brunswick also addressed neighbors’ concerns about odor a few years ago. About eight years ago, Siegel recalled a resident, who has since moved, reported a strong, sulfurous odor coming from the dump.

The town responded by installing ventilators, but Lance Jochem and his next-door neighbor, David Pillsbury, said they still smell trash from time to time.

But Pillsbury is understanding; living next to a dump, he said that’s to be expected.

“We’ve never had any concern,” he said, motioning to the “half of a football field” of woods set between the landfill and his house on Monday afternoon.

However, upon seeing photos of the trash, he said, “that concerns me.”

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

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