PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection presented checks Tuesday to Presque Isle and Fort Fairfield, the Aroostook County communities owed money for landfill remediation and closure costs.

Commissioner Patricia Aho said that the deliveries were part of the agency’s efforts to pay back $4 million owed after payments were suspended to twelve communities statewide that fronted the cost of closure and remediation for their unlined landfills. The communities have been waiting years for partial state reimbursement.

Aho gave a $15,837 check to Jim Bennett, city manager of Presque Isle for partial payment of its landfill closure costs, and presented a $72,918 check to Mark Draper, solid waste director for the Tri-Community Recycling and Sanitary Landfill in Fort Fairfield, for partial payment of landfill remediation costs.

Last month, Aho presented a $63,315 check to the town of Greenville, which shared its landfill closure costs with Piscataquis County and the towns of Shirley and Beaver Cove, and gave another $32,912 check to the city of Bath for its remediation work. Caratunk was sent a $13,311 check earlier this month to split with The Forks and West Forks, which shared in landfill closure costs. The department plans to send checks biannually to each community owed money until the balance has been paid off completely.

The reimbursements are funded by a new $2 per ton fee on construction and demolition debris. That fee, which DEP pushed to enact in the 125th Legislature, went into effect Jan. 1, 2013. It is expected to generate nearly $400,000 in revenue this year alone.

Starting in the 1980s, DEP began working with communities to close or clean-up unlined landfills that threatened public and environmental health. The department provided technical assistance and a legislatively-mandated partial match in funds. Between 1989 and 2000, $79 million was given out to assist with the closure of 397 facilities. However, money to support the program ran out in 2000. Since then, DEP has incurred millions more in obligations and continues to work with communities to clean up or remediate landfills.

Dan Foster, town manager in Fort Fairfield, said that Tri-Community landfill, owned by Fort Fairfield, Caribou and Limestone and serves approximately 36 towns, is owed approximately $1.7 million, which has accumulated “over 6 or 7 years.”

“The $73,000 that we received today is part of a payment schedule set up by the DEP,” he said. “Every six months, they will send a check until the debt is paid off. We’re very happy about it.”

Aho said that “the department is committed to paying our bills and will continue sending payments until the state’s share of landfill closure and remediation costs has been paid.”

Dana Fowler, solid waste director for the city of Presque Isle, said Tuesday afternoon that the city is owed $256,125 by the DEP for costs related to the 2012 closure of the demolition debris landfill portion of the Presque Isle landfill. The five acre site was a depository for construction and demolition debris such as shingles, sheet rock and siding. Fowler said the city is grateful to receive the funding.

Gov. Paul LePage applauded DEP’s efforts, which he said mirror his own to make good on the $484 million the state owes Maine’s hospitals.

“Maine towns did the right thing when they stepped up to close these unsafe landfills,” he said in a statement. “Now it is time for the state to also do the right thing, and I commend DEP and Commissioner Aho for finding an appropriate way to make sure this obligation to our municipalities is finally met. Maine people work hard to pay their bills, and the time is now for their government to do the same.”

Prior to 1988, most municipalities in Maine disposed of their solid waste in their own unlined landfill. These dumps, often located in environmentally sensitive areas, can leach contamination that threatens air, land and groundwater and put off nasty odors. DEP’s closure and remediation program works to cap landfills to evaluate impacts to surrounding areas, contain contaminants, and install gas mitigation and water treatment systems.

Under regulations established in the late 1980s, Maine’s solid waste handling operations are now state-of-the-art facilities built to be protective of public and environmental health. Additionally, more materials are being diverted from landfills through reduction, recycling, reuse, composting and waste-to-energy.