OLD TOWN — The plan to shutter a waste-to-energy incinerator in Biddeford and send trash from communities in southern Maine to an Old Town landfill is likely to breed controversy in coming months, but the state agency that owns the landfill and the landfill’s operator say the shift wouldn’t change much.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection on Oct. 3 accepted as complete an application from the state’s Bureau of General Services and Casella Waste Systems Inc. that aims to remove restrictions and limitations placed on in-state municipal solid waste disposal at Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town.
The Bureau of General Services, under the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, took over as owner of the landfill when the state planning office was eliminated. Casella operates the landfill.
The city of Biddeford and Casella reached a $6.65 million deal in August that would shut down the Maine Energy Recovery Co. incinerator — resolving a quarter-century of complaints from residents about the smell and truck traffic created by the downtown facility — and put the building in the hands of the city.
“The agreement is the culmination of years of controversy, strategic discussions and negotiations … and the city expects a significant increase in economic opportunities and job creation to result from this conveyance and facility closure,” the application states.
The closure would mean the 14 communities and several corporations that sent their waste to MERC need another option, and Casella argues the trash should go to Juniper Ridge.
Under its current license, Juniper Ridge is only allowed to take in bypassed municipal solid waste and a limited amount of solid waste it uses as a “soft layer” in cells. The application aims to lift those restrictions, allowing waste generated by Casella’s southern Maine clients to be sent to a Westbrook trash transfer station before going on to Juniper Ridge.
The application states that little will change at the landfill. Casella states that the amount of municipal solid waste diverted from MERC to Juniper Ridge will be offset by the elimination of residuals, such as ash and front-end process residue, that MERC produced when it was in operation and then sent to be landfilled in Old Town. Because of that, the landfill’s capacity shouldn’t run out sooner than expected, according to the application.
About 66 percent of the waste MERC handled in 2011, or 170,000 tons of trash, came from other states. After MERC closes, the out-of-state waste it accepted would “be pushed back to the out-of-state market,” according to the application.
The Westbrook transfer station would receive out-of-state waste, but Casella has said that trash will be segregated and sent back out of Maine rather than on to Juniper Ridge.
The application caps the amount of municipal solid waste the landfill can accept annually at 123,000 tons.
Opponents of the amendment in the Old Town area say they plan on fighting the bid to send waste north. Old Town resident Ed Spencer said Saturday that he plans to call for a public hearing in the Old Town area and perhaps another in Biddeford before the Oct. 23 deadline.
DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho has said she likely would accept a hearing request based on the past controversies regarding the landfill and the importance of the license amendment to the future of waste management in the state.
Spencer argued that sending unprocessed municipal solid waste from southern Maine to Old Town for landfilling “blows a big hole in the waste hierarchy in the state.”
The hierarchy — reduce, reuse, recycle, compost, waste-to-energy and landfill — prioritizes waste management practices in an effort to reduce the amount of landfilled waste in the state.
Bob Quattrone, a MERC employee who said he is opposed to sending MERC waste to Juniper Ridge, said people in Biddeford are happy to see the incinerator go, but that many of those same people don’t want to see the trash landfilled farther north. Opponents would rather see Casella use a higher option on the hierarchy when dealing with the former MERC waste.
Don Meagher, Casella’s manager for planning and development, said Saturday that the state’s waste hierarchy is meant to guide overall state policy, not to be used as a standard to evaluate individual applications.
But he also stressed that the application should be considered as a whole, and that Casella is meeting the state’s hierarchy in other ways. He said Casella will be diverting 170,000 tons of solid waste originating from other states away from Maine. Casella also would continue to push recycling in the state, Meagher said.
Casella plans to work with Biddeford and other Maine communities to start or improve Zero-Sort Recycling programs, according to the application. The company also is in discussions with Lewiston about a future Zero-Sort facility.
“With these programs, [Casella] has kept its commitment to the state to operate [Juniper Ridge] to be consistent with local, regional and state waste collection, storage and transportation,” the application states.