BANGOR, Maine — The state may have squashed plans by an organization representing more than 180 Maine towns to open a controversial landfill as part of an integrated solid waste and recycling facility, but that isn’t stopping the group from moving forward with their goals to reduce what is buried as trash.
“Our plan to develop a processing facility with cutting-edge technology is moving ahead at full speed, and we continue to be excited about its prospects for increased recycling and conversion of waste to liquid fuels and products,” Greg Lounder, executive director of the Municipal Review Committee, stated in a letter to member towns issued within hours of the state’s draft decision.
The Municipal Review Committee Inc. is a nonprofit organization formed in 1991 to address the trash disposal interests of a group that now totals 187 communities. The MRC submitted an application for a public benefit determination in April to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection for a solid waste facility with landfill in either Greenbush or Argyle.
The idea of a landfill in their backyards upset residents in the two rural Penobscot County communities, many of whom voiced their concerns for wildlife and waterways at public hearings held over the last couple months.
The state, which twice extended the decision process, announced late Wednesday in a draft decision that they were denying the MRC’s application. Those interested in making comments on the draft decision have until Oct. 1 to do so.
“The DEP staff will review all comments and issue their final decision on Oct. 2,” Lounder said.
The MRC board argued that a new landfill owned by the group would be necessary because disposal costs are expected to double at the Penobscot Energy Recovery Co., a waste-to-energy plant in Orrington now in use by the group, once a contract with Emera Maine expires in 2018.
“The department found that there is sufficient existing disposal capacity; thus a new landfill would be inconsistent with the State’s solid waste hierarchy, which puts landfilling last,” DEP Project Analyst Karen Knuuti said in the draft decision.
“The department strongly encourages MRC to continue to pursue a regional approach to increase waste diversion without relying on its own landfill,” the denial letter states. “The department supports MRC’s vision for an integrated waste management system.”
Lounder said the MRC’s elected and volunteer board of directors “has long considered this possibility and is actively engaged in alternative solutions for the post-2018 municipal solid waste management needs of the MRC communities.
“These plans include securing reliable service arrangements with disposal facilities owned and controlled by others,” he said. “This approach presents a different set of challenges than obtaining approval to develop a disposal facility publicly owned and controlled by the MRC communities and we will work diligently to make this alternative approach work.”
Lounder also said, “While we view a [public benefit determination] denial decision as a step backward from the optimal path to solving this problem, this is no time to dwell in disappointment. It is time to move constructively forward with DEP and other stakeholders and service partners in order to find the best possible solution.”
The MRC executive director ended the community letter by stating the board’s members were stunned by the state’s decision.
“We are surprised that the DEP would not recognize the capacity need demonstrated by our application and the merit of having disposal capacity under public control as is the case with Maine’s two remaining waste to energy processing facilities,” Lounder said. “This denial would be a milestone decision as we are not aware of any [public benefit determination] application submitted by a regional association of municipalities ever being turned down and we worry that this decision infringes on the rights of municipalities to make local decisions about [municipal solid waste] disposal as mandated under state law.
“We will provide more information once we have had time to review the basis and reasoning for the DEP’s final decision,” he said.
All documents received by the DEP related to the MRC’s public benefit determination application are available online at: maine.gov/dep/waste/mrc/index.html.
Public comments on the draft denial must be received by 5 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 1, and can be sent to DEP Project Analyst Karen Knuuti, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, 106 Hogan Road, Suite 6, Bangor, Maine 04401 or emailed to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.