Gorham and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection are considering several options for removing some 5,000 tons of trash sitting at the shuttered Plan-It Recycling facility, including dumping it at a closed landfill owned by the town.

A plan to use the waste to help close the former Augusta Tissue landfill fell through when tests of trash samples conducted last month showed high levels of sulfate, said Eric Hamlin, an environmental specialist in the DEP’s Solid Waste Management Division.

Sulfate, which is found in wallboard, can give off a toxic gas with a foul odor when combined with materials found in some landfills, Hamlin said.

The mix of materials in the Augusta landfill couldn’t accommodate the amount of sulfate in Plan-It’s trash, he said. A former construction and demolition landfill off Huston Road in Gorham, however, might be a viable site.

Massive piles of trash have been sitting idle at Plan-It’s facility on the corner of Route 25 and Gorham Industrial Parkway since January, when a Cumberland County Superior Court judge ordered owner Roland Smalley to stop accepting material.

The amount of trash that accumulated at the 5-acre site violated local and state waste storage laws.

Smalley can’t afford to clean up the site and is looking for a company to buy the facility and remove the waste.

Gorham Town Manager David Cole said there were companies interested in purchasing the facility, but he doesn’t know whether they’re still considering it.

In the meantime, he and Hamlin said they’re trying as quickly as possible to figure out a way to get rid of the waste, which is a fire hazard and could start to produce odor and leachate as it decomposes. Neighbors of the site reported seeing rats in the area a few months ago, said Cole.

“It needs to get cleaned up,” Hamlin said.

The easiest solution would be to dump the waste at a secured landfill, he said. The closest such sites are in Norridgewock, Old Town and Rochester, N.H. Those landfills collect gas emitted by the waste, so the sulfate levels wouldn’t be a problem, said Hamlin.

At an estimated cost of $700,000, disposal at one of those landfills is also the most expensive option. An alternative — bringing the trash to ecomaine in Portland for incineration — wouldn’t be much cheaper, Hamlin said, especially considering that any vinyl material in the waste would have to be removed first.

Hamlin said it would be “dramatically less expensive” to dump the waste at the closed Gorham landfill, because there would be no tipping fees. Also, its proximity to Plan-It’s site would cut transportation costs.

The DEP is looking at the town-owned landfill’s configuration and the composition of soils there to determine whether the site could handle Plan-It’s waste. Ultimately, Hamlin said, the town will have to decide whether to accept the trash.

Then, there’s still the question of who will pay for the cleanup. Cole said the town has no legal obligation nor any intention to spend taxpayer money on the waste disposal. For now, he said, his focus is on finding a reasonable plan for removing it from the Plan-It site.

“I don’t have answers. All I have is a bunch of questions,” he said. “I don’t think we know where we’re going to go from here.”

 

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at

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