The Verso Paper mill is pictured in Bucksport in this 2014 file photo. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

Some Bucksport-area residents are opposing a move that would allow a dormant local landfill to start accepting more waste.

About 40 people gathered Tuesday night at Brown Hall on Elm Street to voice their concerns and to hear from people who live near the Juniper Ridge landfill in Old Town about their experiences as neighbors to an active landfill site.

Don White, a Bucksport resident who helped organize the talk, said that any new activity at the local landfill, which is owned by AIM subsidiary Bucksport Mill LLC, would cause environmental problems and be bad for people who live in the area.

“The cheapest way to handle trash is to dump it in the ground, but it ain’t the best way,” White said. “This would be a moneymaker for AIM. We can’t accept money for poison.”

Susan Lessard, Bucksport’s town manager, said AIM cannot simply start trucking in new waste to dump at the site off Route 15. The state license for operating the landfill allows it to accept only waste generated by its owner and limits the type of waste to construction and demolition debris and to wood waste. She said those restrictions are a holdover from when the landfill was owned and operated by the former local paper mill, which closed down in 2014.

Lessard, who also serves as chair of the state Board of Environmental Protection, said the landfill hasn’t had any activity for the past eight years because AIM does not generate any permitted waste on its own. Municipal solid waste, which includes household waste, can be taken to Juniper Ridge but is not allowed at the Bucksport landfill, she said.

But AIM, which in 2018 sold most of the old mill property to Whole Oceans, is hoping to find a way to bring it back to life. AIM has informally proposed that it transfer ownership of the landfill to the town, which would allow AIM to operate the site and to accept permitted waste from other parties such as construction companies

The town has reservations about the idea, Lessard said, though Bucksport could benefit from receiving a share of the tipping fees and disposing of its own construction and demo debris free of charge.

The landfill has not been well-maintained, she said, citing reports the town has obtained from the state Department of Environmental Protection. Town officials also are concerned that most of the landfill doesn’t have a liner to keep out water infiltration and that there’s a leachate outflow pipe that drains into the Penobscot River — both of which are permitted under the landfill’s state license.

“There are issues,” she said about the landfill’s ongoing environmental impact.

The town has not received a formal proposal from AIM, and though it has no immediate decision to make, she said, “the answer here may be ‘no.’” 

But AIM might have other options, she added.

It could sell the landfill and transfer the license to another private owner that does generate its construction and demo debris, but any such transfer would have to be approved by the state and could be appealed, she said. The company also could seek to transfer ownership of landfill to a municipality other than Bucksport, which is not prohibited by state law.

The town also has options, she added, noting that Bucksport doesn’t have any local rules about the operation of landfills. The town cannot adopt an ordinance that would invalidate AIM’s landfill license, she said, but it could adopt operating rules that could minimize some of its potential impacts on neighbors.

“The addition of local controls is not a bad idea,” Lessard said. “We need to do this thoughtfully.”

White said Tuesday night that, even if there is no formal proposal from AIM, landfill opponents need to get organized now to try to keep more waste from being brought to Bucksport.

“We need serious help from our town council. We need help from our state legislators,” he said. “This has to be stopped.”

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....