AUGUSTA — Proponents of a bill that would exempt municipalities from waste-licensing requirements for snow dumps say they don't want to put snow removed from public roadways into rivers, lakes and bays.
However, opponents worry that would be the outcome if the legislation passes.
Members of the Legislature's Environmental Committee heard those arguments Wednesday, one day after the Natural Resources Council of Maine targeted the proposal as one of 50 anti-environment bills before the Legislature this session.
Supporters rejected that designation, saying their goal was to give municipalities more flexibility in locating snow dumps.
The bill, LD 333, is sponsored by Rep. Sheryl Briggs, D-Mexico, who submitted the legislation on behalf of Mexico Town Manager John Madigan and the Maine Municipal Association.
Madigan said Mexico is having difficulty getting the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to approve that town's snow dump, which is on a privately owned lot near a Big Apple convenience store. Madigan said the town has been dumping snow there since 2008.
The dump used to be located behind the town offices, but the DEP said the location was illegal because it was too close to the Androscoggin River.
Madigan described the DEP permitting process as redundant, unnecessary and out of touch with the challenges the town is facing.
"They didn't want to hear what the reality of snow removal was in Mexico," Madigan said, adding that the department was "very rigid, almost dictatorial."
The state has minimum setback requirements for snow dumps near streams, ponds and the ocean. The dumps also can't be located on aquifer recharge areas or in wetlands.
According to Madigan, most of Mexico is in an aquifer recharge area.
Greg Connors of the MMA said several other communities are in similar positions. Connors said some of those towns were incurring significant expenses because they were forced to truck snow miles away.
According to Patricia Aho, deputy director of the DEP, 10 communities are required to seek the waste-discharge licenses that the bill is seeking to change. She said the remaining 484 towns already comply with the state's setback requirements.
Opponents of the bill included the Maine Audubon Society, NRCM and the Maine Congress of Lake Associations. Each worried that changing the state snow dump requirements would increase water contamination by chemicals, salt, cigarette butts, garbage and animal feces that often end up buried in the snow.
Several opponents said the state should be increasing requirements for snow dumps.
Jane West of the Conservation Law Foundation said the bill would lead to violations of the federal Clean Water Act. She said proponents may not intend to dump snow in rivers, lakes and streams, but it could open the door for that activity.
Rep. Michael Shaw, D-Standish, originally co-sponsored the bill but submitted testimony opposing the measure.
Aho said the DEP could try to work with communities struggling with existing law, a suggestion that some committee members supported. She said the law couldn't be changed to allow towns to disperse pollutants into water bodies because it would be a violation of the Clean Water Act.
The bill is scheduled for a work session later this week.