In this April 22, 2021, file photo, a trash truck enters Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Maine lawmakers are one step closer to closing a loophole that allows construction and demolition waste from other states to end up at the state-owned landfill in Old Town.

The Environment and Natural Resources Committee voted 11-1 on Monday to recommend a proposal that would end those exemptions. It’ll now be considered by the full Legislature.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Anne Carney, a Democrat from Cape Elizabeth, said that the legislation is meant to restrict a business called ReSource Lewiston that has imported hundreds of thousands of tons of construction debris from other states to Maine over the last decade.

It generally removes a small amount of that waste to sell as recycling and sends the rest along to the Juniper Ridge Landfill.

“Ninety percent of the waste that comes into the processing facility in Lewiston and then goes to Juniper Ridge, 90 percent of that originates from out of state,” Carney said before the Monday morning vote. “Most of it is from Massachusetts. There is some amount of it that also comes from New Hampshire.”

Environmental groups and neighbors of the Old Town landfill support the proposal. They have expressed concern that the out-of-state waste is contributing to the fast rate at which Juniper Ridge is being filled and introducing potential sources of contamination into the surrounding environment.

The legislation, LD 1639, is opposed by all the companies involved in the waste’s handling and disposal.

The contractor that runs Juniper Ridge, Casella Waste Systems of Vermont, said that the imports provide an affordable source of materials required to maintain the site. ReSource Lewiston said that it could have to close if the proposal is approved.

Casella combines the materials it receives from ReSource with wastewater sludge the landfill receives daily. The construction debris and other, oversized waste give the sludge more structure to keep the landfill intact, said Shelby Wright, Casella’s eastern region manager of engagement.

Without those, Wright said, the company has serious concerns about the structural integrity of the landfill.

“LD 1639 in its current form will cause challenges to the safe and environmentally sound day-to-day operations and management of this landfill,” she said. “The limitations that the proposal places on our ability to manage sludges without a reliable and consistent amount of bulking agents could be considerable.”

The sludges that are delivered to Juniper Ridge come from wastewater treatment facilities across the state. Juniper Ridge has taken on sludge for years and built the landfill’s infrastructure around the sludge and binding agents that come from ReSource.

At the same time the committee endorsed the out-of-state waste legislation, it continued discussing another proposal, LD 1911, that would result in more sludge ending up at Juniper Ridge by limiting the ability to spread sludge on fields, Wright said.

“When you take LD 1639 and LD 1911 together, I think they will have an unforeseen cascading effect on solid waste management throughout the region as a whole,” she said. “One bill seeks to limit our ability to provide bulking agents; the other bill sends us more material which we need said bulking agent for. So they do operate counter-intuitively.”

Sarah Nichols, Sustainable Maine director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, applauded the lawmakers’ vote.

“I’m glad that lawmakers were not persuaded by the argument that this waste benefits Maine,” Nichols said. “It’s clear that it doesn’t. The only benefit of bringing this waste to Maine is lining the pockets of these two waste companies.”

The Legislature last attempted to limit those imports two years ago, but ReSource was exempted from significant changes after it pledged to make upgrades to its recycling infrastructure. As part of that approval, state regulators are planning to review the arrangement in 2024.

The one lawmaker to vote against the current proposal, Rep. Jeffery Hanley, a Republican from Pittston, expressed concern that the state is now “moving the goalposts” for ReSource Lewiston. He also expressed concern that the business could shed about 40 jobs if the bill is passed.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public. BDN writer Sawyer Loftus contributed to this report.