BANGOR – The state’s solid waste commission met Wednesday to discuss compensation paid to towns that play host to waste facilities, but the discussion kept circling back to issues of out-of-state waste and overweight trash trucks.
The nine-member Blue Ribbon Commission on Solid Waste Management, made up of residents, past and present legislators and state department staff, spent the morning touring landfill facilities in Hampden and Old Town before reviewing regulations for host community benefit agreements later in the afternoon.
The committee called on Old Town City Manager Peggy Daigle and Don Meagher of Casella Waste Systems Inc., a solid waste management company, to provide testimony of their personal experiences regarding host community agreements. Casella owns and operates Pine Tree Landfill in Hampden and operates the state-owned Juniper Ridge in Old Town. Both communities negotiated host community benefits that provide compensation for municipalities that are affected by waste facilities.
Daigle told the commission that Old Town spent more than $125,000 in legal costs alone to negotiate its host agreement.
“A smaller community than Old Town might have a difficult time coming up with the resources,” she said. Daigle noted that city regulations cannot be more stringent than those of the state.
“It’s incumbent upon the state that your rules are fair and equitable in this whole process,” she said.
The committee will study Maine’s solid waste policies and is expected to provide a recommendation to the Legislature by January. The group aims to close gaps and enhance existing regulations. Any potential statutes would not be approved at least until June 2007, which worries some of those who attended the afternoon meeting.
Juniper Ridge is required by the state to file an expansion permit by February 2007, and with the proposed closure of the Pine Tree Landfill, Hampden may renegotiate its host community benefit.
“From the community standpoint, Hampden is an old issue and soon to be nonissue,” former state Sen. Tom Sawyer, a commission member and prior owner of the Hampden landfill, said. The town has proposed a closure plan that is still under state review, which would shut down the facility in 2010.
Daigle and Meagher provided information that the committee will use in its final report, but it did not weigh as heavily on attendees’ minds as the importation of out-of-state waste.
“There is no written definition [for out-of-state waste] in either rule or law,” Paula Clark, director of the Department of Environmental Protection’s solid waste division, said.
As it stands, waste only has to be processed, not generated, in Maine to be considered and disposed of as in-state waste.
That process could be as simple as moving the waste from an out-of-state truck to a Maine truck, Juniper Ridge Landfill Advisory Committee Chairman Peter DuFour said.
“This is what this committee has got to change,” Rep. Joanne Twomey, D-Biddeford, said.
In addition to lacking a formal definition, the state has no means to determine the origin of waste disposed of in Maine’s landfills.
“There’s never an out-of-state reference on those reports,” DuFour said of Casella’s monthly waste reports.
There is a concern in the Old Town community that out-of-state waste is filling Juniper Ridge, a facility that is not supposed to accept waste from beyond Maine’s borders.
“If they bring it in the state of Maine and bring a 2-by-4 off it,” the load is considered in-state waste, DuFour said.
Meagher, however, said the company is very careful, and no out-of-state waste has entered Juniper Ridge’s gate.
“In order to do that, it would only cost somebody money,” Meagher said. “There’s no motivation behind it.”
Casella also tries to decrease a company’s motivation to put overweight trucks on the road by implementing an informal three-strike rule.
Trucks traveling on the interstate cannot weigh more than 80,000 pounds and must be under 100,000 pounds to travel on state and local roads. Overweight truck reports from recent months indicated that 2 percent to 8 percent of the trucks entering Juniper Ridge’s gate are overweight. In an effort to curb this behavior, Casella warns drivers three times before refusing to admit them to the facility.
“The last thing we want to do is send it [a truck] back out on the road overweight,” Meagher said.
Juniper Ridge is located on state Route 16, where there is one very narrow bridge that trucks must pass over.
“Two waste trucks cannot pass that bridge at the same time,” Old Town Code Enforcement Officer Charlie Heinonen said.
Compensation for damage and maintenance to local roads and infrastructure caused by truck traffic bound for waste facilities is one of four issues the State Planning Office already has addressed in draft legislation concerning host community agreements, Sue Inches of the State Planning Office said.
The three other issues are clarification of the term “good faith negotiation” between parties, fair compensation for quantifiable impacts on the host, and an opportunity to review and modify the agreement every five years or whenever changes at the facility are approved by the DEP.
“None of this is set in stone,” Inches said.
The commission is scheduled to meet again next Friday in Augusta, during which members are expected to continue discussions on out-of-state waste.