The site of Bucksport's former paper mill looms behind the town sign. A company that purchased the old mill has raised the idea of reviving a dormant landfill. Credit: Ethan Genter / BDN

A potential partnership between a scrap metal company and Bucksport to reopen a landfill at the site of the former Verso paper mill could net the town millions of dollars.

American Iron and Metal, which owns portions of the old mill site, made its first public pitch to Bucksport town officials last week for a plan to jointly revive the dormant landfill.

The proposal would involve joining forces with the town to reopen the 1.1 million cubic yard landfill that used to take in the mill’s waste. The idea, according to rough town estimates, could bring in more than $3 million to the municipality’s coffers, though several residents expressed environmental qualms and other concerns.

Dave Bryant, an AIM representative, said that the company was spurred to reopen the landfill because Maine’s construction debris capacity is shrinking and there are few other ways to use the mill site’s existing landfill.

AIM approached Bucksport with the prospect because private companies haven’t been able to open landfills since the 1980s, but municipalities in Maine still can.

“It’s become clear that the most efficient and perhaps the only way to accomplish commercializing that existing landfill is to partner with a municipality,” Bryant told the town council’s infrastructure subcommittee last week.

The estimated life of the landfill would be about 10 to 12 years, and it would only take construction debris. Household trash and other waste won’t be allowed.

The symbiotic relationship would involve the town taking ownership of the landfill, though AIM would retain any legal liability of its operation. AIM would also run the landfill, likely with another commercial waste partner.

AIM would charge tipping fees, and Bucksport would get a cut of those fees, as well as about 200 tons of free debris disposal. The idea is still in the early stages, but revenue estimates were discussed at last week’s meeting.

Assuming the town received $2 of tipping fees for every ton of debris, the town could take in about $3.08 million over the life of the facility. An actual royalty rate had not been determined and would have to be hammered out in negotiations.

The town could also save upwards of $30,000 a year for the approximately 250 to 300 tons of demolition debris it currently pays to take to other landfills.

Though its economic prospects could be bright, not everyone was onboard. Several residents questioned the need for the project and if it would have any negative effects on the town.

Most materials taken in by the landfill would be required to go through a transfer station first, so organic waste that could produce a putrid smell and waft over to downtown Bucksport wouldn’t be brought to the site.

Bryant did predict that about six to eight semi-trailer trucks would roll into the facility daily, five days a week. This amount of traffic alarmed some residents who had shown up to the meeting, both for its potential to clog up Main Street and the amount of waste coming in.

“[That’s] one an hour, five days a week every week,” said one resident. “It just sounds like a lot for a small community.”

The infrastructure committee didn’t have any outright objections to the idea. It will have to go through several more rounds of public hearings before any sort of agreement with the town can be approved. American Iron and Metal would also have to get green lights from the state to resume operations.

Bucksport may have an incentive to sign onto the partnership because even if it declines to enter an agreement with AIM, the mill’s landfill could still reopen.

AIM is allowed to seek out other municipalities aside from Bucksport to sponsor the venture at the mill site, according to Bucksport Town Manager Susan Lessard. That could cut Bucksport out of any potential economic benefit while still producing a landfill in town.

“There is nothing in state law that would prevent AIM from this type of arrangement with another community as the owner,” she said.