Dump deal gets skeptical review

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LEWISTON – A group reviewing a possible management deal for the city’s landfill left City Hall on Thursday night with a good deal of homework.

The city’s Solid Waste Task Force met with about 25 residents and community activists concerned about letting a private company get its hands on Lewiston’s landfill.

Now members will take the questions and comments they’ve received and begin looking for answers.

“We’ve been given a lot of information on Casella as a company, their relationship with other communities, and lawsuits they’re facing,” said member Leo Larochelle. “I figure we’ll divide the workload up and start contacting some of Casella’s foes directly and try to see just what’s going on.”

The task force is reviewing a potential deal given to city councilors last month. The new agreement would have Casella pay the city up to $2.5 million the first year, plus pay a minimum of $800,000 per year in monitoring and host fees. Casella would also take over the KTI Biofuels incineration facility off of Plourde Parkway and convert it into a sorting facility for construction and demolition debris within four years.

Chairman Robert Reed said it’s a matter of balancing out the pros and the cons. Based on the task force’s financial models, the deal would give the city about $47 million over 30 years. That would be enough to take about $100 off of the average Lewiston property tax bill.

But it would mean a drastically shorter life for the landfill. The agreement would leave the landfill full at the end of 30 years. That same space – which includes existing landfill cells and years worth of expansion – would last the city for 620 years at current rates.

“Nobody’s asked the question yet, what happens in the 31st year of this contract,” Reed said. “That’s what concerns me.”

Task force members Reed, Larochelle, Norm Veilleux and Ronald Comeau assured the people at Thursday’s meeting that their minds were not made up.

“We’re not in anybody’s pocket,” Comeau said. “We’ve asked a lot of tough questions.”

It was good news, but the people in the audience remained skeptical.

“We have a good system, and it’s lower cost than other communities,” said Ed Plourde of 25 Coburn St. “But this would create drastic changes. So I want to know, what is broken with our system that requires such drastic measures?”

Jim Lysen of Taylor Hill Road said he’s not worried about paying more for city services, like trash collection and land-filling. He doesn’t want to see Lewiston become a destination for out-of-state waste.

“I don’t want to bargain away the future, the health of this community for a short-term tax break,” Lysen said. “I’d rather pay more and make sure we’re doing it the right way.”

Lysen also feared that other parts of the contract, like agreeing to increase recycling rates in Lewiston, were a smoke screen.

“Lewiston has had a much higher recycling rate in the past,” he said. “This community has shown the ability to do much better than it does now.”

According to the agreement, Casella would increase the city’s recycling rate by doubling it within four years. Part of that would rely on single-stream recycling and paying benefits to people who recycle more.

Open ended

Task force members said they have plenty work remaining.

“I think we need to meet again to begin creating some sort of recommendation for the City Council,” Reed said. The group did not set a date for future meetings, however.

If the task force and councilors approve, the Casella agreement likely would have to go before voters. It must also be approved by the state Attorney General’s Office or the state Legislature.

This is the city’s second attempt at a management agreement at the landfill. Councilors approved an agreement with Casella in 2005 that would have hired the company to manage the landfill. State environmental officials put a halt to that proposal last year, fearing it would bring out-of-state garbage into Lewiston’s landfill.

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