The Canadian scrap metal recycler that bought the Verso Paper mill in Bucksport for $60 million on Jan. 29 also acquired Verso’s 48-acre landfill, and Maine environmental regulators are concerned about the company’s plans for the site.

The Department of Environmental Protection is also questioning whether it needs more authority to review future transfers of privately owned landfills, in order to ensure that environmental standards are maintained.

The former Verso landfill, now owned by AIM Development LLC, is only licensed to receive “incidental” mill waste, such as papermaking sludge and ash from the biomass power plant. But DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho raised concerns this month that the transfer took place without a DEP review normally required for landfills, which are subject to strict licensing and monitoring rules because of their potential environmental impact.

As a result, the DEP wants clarification from the company about its plans for the landfill. Aho has asked company officials to meet with department staff to discuss the issue.

“They haven’t told us anything yet,” DEP spokesman Karl Wilkins said. “What we are concerned about is the use of the facility and we want to make sure the existing license is in line with future use.”

Aho told lawmakers the week before last that the department also wants assurances from AIM that it has the technical know-how and financial capacity to run, maintain and potentially close down a landfill. As part of a landfill expansion plan approved by the DEP in January 2012, Verso was required to provide “financial assurance” – in the form of a line of credit and reserve accounts – to cover the estimated $7.9 million cost to close the facility and provide post-closure care.

The Bucksport situation flagged the possibility of similar situations elsewhere at the eight other “generator-owned” landfills held by private companies, most of them paper mills.

“This is the first one that has come to my attention,” Aho told members of the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee. “But I think it is time for all of us to pause and think about what level of review we want to have before these transfers.”

Walter Griesseier, spokesman for AIM Development, declined to comment on the landfill issue, saying he is no longer talking to the media. Company officials have said that they planned to dismantle the mill – which employed more than 500 people before shutting down in December – and scrap the equipment, but have also said they were willing to consider offers from companies interested in resuming papermaking.

TOWN OFFICIALS INVOLVED

Bucksport officials, in addition to working with the company on the future use of the sprawling riverfront mill site, are monitoring the landfill discussions and plan to be engaged in any proposals to change the licensed use of the facility. The landfill is located about a half-mile north of the mill.

“I have met with their folks regularly – once or twice a week – and they are still trying to get their arms around what the (landfill) asset really is and what they might be able to do with it,” said Dave Milan, Bucksport’s director of economic development. “We are certainly paying attention to what their intentions are.”

Verso spokesman Bill Cohen said his company turned over all documents and environmental records to AIM following the sale. AIM also continues to employ at least two of Verso’s environmental staff involved with the landfill.

Cohen said he was not sure of how AIM planned to operate the landfill, adding that “they own it and it is up to them.” But Cohen said Verso is willing to help, if asked.

“From our perspective, nothing has changed: it’s just AIM owns it and AIM operates it,” Cohen said. “If they wanted to change the use (of the landfill), they would have to go back to the DEP.”

Solid waste policies are as complex as landfills are controversial.

There were 47 active landfills licensed by the DEP as of February 2015, roughly half of which are operated by municipalities or regional co-ops. The state owns and operates four landfills; the remaining facilities are privately owned.

DEP licenses typically stipulate what types of waste can be deposited in landfills, such as municipal trash, construction and demolition debris, or papermaking waste known as “sludge.” Those licenses also spell out how much waste can be deposited in landfills, dictate operators’ requirements for capturing and treating the contaminated runoff known as leachate, and require demonstrated financial capacity to close a facility.

Nine landfills were “generator-owned,” meaning they were operated by private companies exclusively for their own waste. Most of the major paper mills in the state – including those in Bucksport, Jay and Baileyville – have their own landfills.

Wilkins said he could not provide further information about the Bucksport landfill’s license, including specific language on the types of waste that are allowed in the facility.

LANDFILL EXPANSION GETS OK IN 2012

In 2012, Verso received authorization to expand the Bucksport landfill by increasing the height. The DEP license allowed the company to deposit up to 3,000 cubic yards of mill-related waste in the landfill annually, although Verso’s Cohen said much of the waste in recent years was fed into the mill’s biomass-to-energy plant rather than into the landfill.

Some observers raised concerns about AIM potentially seeking to deposit construction and demolition debris in the Bucksport facility.

Sen. Tom Saviello, a Wilton Republican who formerly served as the environmental manager at the Jay paper mill under both Verso and International Paper, said he did not believe it was “legitimate” for the licenses for generator-owned landfills to automatically transfer to new owners.

Saviello, who co-chairs the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, indicated that he would fight any effort by AIM to significantly change the type of waste allowed in the Bucksport landfill.

“To me they are stretching the rules significantly,” Saviello said of AIM. “That was never my understanding back in the 1990s (while managing the Jay landfill) that I could take a landfill I managed and transfer it to the construction company down the street for construction and demolition debris.”

Other generator-owned landfills have emerged as issues during paper mill sales.

In 2011, the state of Maine aquired Dolby Landfill in East Millinocket from Katahdin Paper in order to facilitate the sale of the GNP paper mill to another company. The deal had numerous critics, however, and four years later both the Millinocket and East Millinocket mills are closed while the state is paying an estimated $300,000 to $400,000 a year to maintain the landfill.