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Public Weighs in on Proposal to Truck So. Maine Trash North
04/09/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

State environmental regulators are hearing final arguments on a controversial proposal to ship trash from communities in southern Maine to the Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town. Opponents of the plan in Old Town call the landfill a toxic waste site, and argue that dumping even more garbage there will harm the city's environment and overall quality of life. But the company that runs Juniper Ridge dismisses those claims and says shipping the additional trash north will have little negative impact on the dump, or on Old Town. Jay Field reports.

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The trash - from 14 communties in southern Maine - used to be burned at the Maine Energy Recovery Company in Biddeford. But last August, after years of complaints about bad odors and truck traffic, the city struck a deal with the incinerator's owner, Casella Waste Systems, to shut the facility down.

The agreement forced Casella to find a new place to send all the garbage it picks up in southern Maine. Don Meagher heads up planning and development at the company.

The Juniper Ridge Landfill is a state-owned landfill, and it was established to serve the waste disposal needs of the entire state," he says.

Don Meagher says Casella, which also runs the landfill for the state, has done an analysis showing that Juniper Ridge is a better place to send all that southern Maine trash than MERC ever was.

"That analysis shows that the amount of waste going to the landfill will be reduced. The amount of traffic going to the landfill will be reduced," Meagher says. "So, from all of the environmental and operating parameters associated with the landfill, either no change at all or a reduced impact."

Meagher and other supporters and opponents of Casella's proposal are taking part in a two-day public hearing before regulators with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. To send the trash up north, the state needs to approve the company's applications and lift restrictions on the amount of solid waste it can receive at Juniper.

Opponents of the project say the state ought to be focusing on cleaning up the Juniper Ridge site, not adding to the pollution there. Ralph Coffman says the dump put his campground in Old Town out of business. "Nobody wants to camp out a mile and half from the largest toxic waste site in all of New England," Coffman says.

In 2003, the state took over the Juniper Ridge Landfill to prevent the Georgia-Pacific Paper Mill from shutting down and laying off hundreds of workers. The mill eventually shut down anyway. And opponents, like Coffman, say Old Town and surrounding communities were left with a dump that's been contaminating the region's air quality and groundwater for years.

"This dump is located right above Old Town's water supply. That also supplies the water to Milford, Bradley, the University of Maine - it's ruined our town," Coffman says.

But Casella disputes the assertion that Juniper Ridge has ever been a threat to the environment, or would become one, if it begins taking all that solid waste from southern Maine. And Bill Mayo, Old Town's city manager, says his staff has had a good experience working with the company.

"Casella has been good in the past in how they operate the landfill. They're very good in dealing with odor - odor issues at the landfill - dealing with truck traffic and things like that," Mayo says.

Tonight, environmental regulators will hear testimony from members of the public on the proposal to bring southern Maine's trash to Juniper Ridge.


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