Lawmaker warns Maine risks becoming debris ‘dumping ground’

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AUGUSTA (AP) – A Biddeford lawmaker, warning that Maine is becoming the region’s “dumping ground,” failed Wednesday to persuade the House to impose a moratorium on the burning or processing of construction and demolition debris.

But the House did give initial approval to a bill that limits the amount of wood from construction and demolition debris that may be substituted for conventional fuel in boilers to 50 percent per year. The bill faces further House and Senate votes.

The House vote followed a brief debate in which Rep. Joanne Twomey, D-Biddeford, appealed to lawmakers to temporarily halt debris burning, citing the health risks. Twomey said other states in the region, including New Hampshire, have already imposed moratoriums of their own on demolition debris burning.

“So guess where they’re going to be sending it?” said Twomey. “We are turning out to be the dumping ground for out-of-state waste.”

A leading supporter of the version that passed, Rep. Ted Koffman, said lawmakers had an opportunity to impose regulations over construction debris now being burned in Maine by passing the legislation, which would take effect immediately. “This is a solid piece of legislation,” said Koffman, D-Bar Harbor.

Koffman also acknowledged that the legislation approved Wednesday may not be the final answer, saying, “We’ve come a long way (but) we have a long way to go.”

During a Senate debate earlier this week, Sen. Scott Cowger said the bill would not affect any boilers now in operation in Maine. But the Hallowell Democrat said it would “potentially eliminate the opportunity” for a plant proposed in the western Maine town of Athens, which would have about doubled the entire amount of construction debris wood that is burned in the state today.

Proposals to burn demonstration debris have generated strong opposition in Maine and New Hampshire, prompting legislation, court action and a demonstration in the Maine House on Tuesday evening that resulted in an arrest.

A woman protesting the proposal by GenPower LLC of Massachusetts to build the Athens plant chained herself to a railing in the House gallery Tuesday evening and was charged with obstructing government operations. Hillary Lister, 25, of Athens, was released on bail.

In New Hampshire, residents of Hopkinton worried that a power plant burning chips of wood from demolition would send toxic fumes into the air. The resulting lawsuit went to the state Supreme Court, which ruled that the case involves a “pressing public interest” despite New Hampshire’s statewide moratorium on burning the material.

The Bio Energy plant in New Hampshire also burned waste wood from forestry and lumber operations, shavings and sawdust as part of its mix.

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