AUGUSTA- The Maine Department of Environmental Protections decision on whether to issue a final denial of the Municipal Review Committee, Inc.’s application for a public benefit determination for a proposed new landfill in Argyle or Greenbush became a moot point last week, when the MRC, knowing that the final denial was all but certain, withdrew its application.

The MRC, the quasi-municipal organization that represent the more than 180 Maine communities that dispose of their trash at the PERC plant in Orrington, sought the public benefit because it is feared that waste disposal costs could go through the roof, perhaps to double or more the current rate, when the current contract with PERC expires in 2018. That led the MRC to search for sites for a new landfill/facility, with purchases option agreements in place in both Argyle and Greenbush. The determination of public benefit was the first step in siting of such a facility.

The MRC plan had been controversial from the beginning, with both the Argyle and Greenbush sites panned by many people, primarily local, opposed to the project. Numerous concerns were raised, inlcuding the effects the facility would have on traffic, air and water quality, and land values. In the draft denial, which was issued on Sept. 24, the department found the MRC’s evaluation of disposal capacity was substantially influenced by its stated need for a landfill under its ownership and control rather than a factual analysis of the disposal capacity available within and near the MRC service area in the short- and long-term. The department strongly encouraged the MRC to continue to pursue a regional approach to increase waste diversion without relying on its own landfill.

The DEP had planned to issue its final decision at the end of last week, but last Tuesday, the MRC pulled the application for the public benefit determination. At the same time, the MRC, via a letter from its executive director, Greg Lounder, said it had concerns over the DEP’s reasoning for the draft denial.

Lounder noted that the DEP offered six theoretical options for waste disposal, all of which to some degree presumed that the MRC could contract to use Juniper Ridge Landfill in West Old Town for some or all of its dispsoal capacity needs. The trouble with that notion, said Lounder, is that there are contractual provisions that could be leveraged by PERC to prevent the MRC from using Juniper Ridge; while such stipulations may not be enforceable. they would be a barrier in any negotiations to use Juniper Ridge, said Lounder, who further noted that an expansion of Juniper Ridge would be needed to send MRC waste there – a step that, given the landfill’s past history, would almost ceretainly generate some stiff opposition and would not necessarily be approved.

Lounder repeated an assertion made by the MRC several times – that PERC is not likely to be an economically viable option past 2018, regardless of what its ownership says. and that the draft order ignored actual market forces. As a result, the MRC remains committed to developing an integrated solid waste management system and to minimizing residuals going to landfills in order to provide an affordable alternative to trash management post-2018. Lounder said the MRC now will seek alternatives to dealing with residuals.

The determination of public benefit was not required for the integrated facility. It had seemed likely, however, that it would have been located in close proximity to the proposed sites in Alton or Greenbush; where sch a facility now may go is uncertain.

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