Signs warn against trespassing at a dormant landfill in Bucksport that is owned by American Iron and Metal. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

The Bucksport Town Council has approved a six-month ban on approving licenses for landfills.

It took less than three minutes for the council to hold a public hearing Thursday on the proposed moratorium and then to vote 7-0 to approve it. The start of the ban is retroactive to March 23.

The temporary ban was proposed after American Iron and Metal, which bought and demolished the local paper mill, floated the idea of reopening the mill’s former landfill and using it for construction debris. The landfill has been closed for eight years.

Many local residents have opposed the idea, saying reopening the landfill would pose a threat to the environment and, by extension, local residents.

Don White, a local resident of Town Farm Road, has been a vocal critic of the idea. He encouraged the council on Thursday to enact the moratorium, saying that there is very little support for reopening the site.

“I’ve never seen the town more unified,” White said. “Hopefully we’ll stay together because I think this is an important first step.”

Katrina Bisheimer, who also lives on Town Farm Road, also encouraged the council to approve the moratorium. She and White were the only people who spoke during the public hearing.

“I think the moratorium is a really good idea,” she said. “I’m hoping it will result in a good outcome for the town and the health of everybody.”

The existing state license allows it to be used only for waste generated by its owner and limits the type of waste to construction and demolition debris and to wood waste, according to Bucksport Town Manager Sue Lessard. She has 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.

AIM has informally proposed transferring ownership of the landfill to the town. AIM would still operate the site but would be allowed to accept permitted waste from other parties such as construction companies, but town officials have expressed some skepticism of that idea.

The landfill has not been well-maintained, Lessard has said, and 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.

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, Lessard said, but it could adopt operating rules that could minimize some of its potential impacts on neighbors.

The moratorium, which could be extended for another 180 days after it ends, will give the town time to consider whether it should adopt local controls and, if so, what those should be.

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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....