It’s hard to believe an inactive landfill can go nearly 20 years without being closed, slowly leaking its contents into the ground we all walk on and the water we all depend on.

Department of Environmental Protection regulations dictate that owners of landfills close them a year after they’ve stopped using them as a dump.

However, that’s not what’s happened here in Scarborough on some land off Route 22, where Donna Chapman’s family has been leasing land to the S.D. Warren mill for nearly 30 years. See Staff Writer Ken Tatro’s front page story, “Almost Unusable,” for the full story.

Essentially, Chapman’s family started leasing 23 acres to be used as a landfill by the S.D. Warren mill in 1977, when the state had few regulations on landfills. Since then, the state has adopted laws that strictly regulate how people can use property that has been used as a landfill.

That’s what Chapman found out when she decided that she might want to turn the land into an equestrian center – the land was practically unusable. Chapman also found out, however, that the state had yet to approve a final plan to close the landfill – something that’s supposed to be done a year after a landfill is no longer in use, under state regulations.

It doesn’t seem fair to hold Chapman to state standards for landfills when the state isn’t holding the paper company to them.

Randy McMullin, an environmental specialist for the Department of Environmental Protection, said the state never forgot about the landfill. He said it was just focused on other landfills, like the nearby Regional Waste Systems landfill.

The case is also complicated by the fact that ownership of the mill has changed hands. Sappi purchased the mill from Scott in the early 1990s. Kimberly-Clark later purchased Scott.

Nonetheless, someone is responsible for closing the landfill and cleaning up whatever mess has been created by failing to do so for the last 20 years. The regulations the state has put in place are there for a good reason – to avoid contaminating the ground and water.

For years, the S.D. Warren mill dumped waste paper and mill sludge – a byproduct of the paper making process – into the ground. The mill also dumped wood, bark, boiler ash and lime dregs there. Right now, that’s all decomposing and slowly leaking into the ground.

What’s even more worrisome is that this is by no means the worst landfill in the state. Unfortunately, there are probably landfills in worse conditions all over the state.

It’s up to the state to hold these landowners and the companies they lease to responsible for the messes they’ve made that can affect us all.

Theo says ‘no’

It’s a little disappointing that Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein won’t be making it to Cape Elizabeth’s prom this year.

A couple of Cape Elizabeth seniors, Grace Needleman and Alice Evans, asked Epstein to the prom while they were vacationing in Fort Myers, Fla., where the Red Sox do their spring training. Although asking Epstein to the prom no doubt started out as a good natured joke, the story took off when Epstein told the girls he would try to make it, and a columnist for the Boston Herald picked up the story.

Although some Red Sox fans might be glad Epstein will be focused on baseball, rather than prom arrangements, many of us in the media – always on the prowl for a good story – are disappointed Epstein didn’t see it the way Martha Palmer, the mother of Alice Evans, did. “I personally think it is too bad that the Red Sox couldn’t figure out how to capitalize on publicity through this, rather than just turning it down,” she said.

At least one local business saw the fun in the story – and probably the chance for a little publicity. The Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth offered Epstein a free room and dinner for prom night. The inn will instead be offering that to Needleman, Evans and their families.

This newspaper, at least, will be covering Cape Elizabeth’s prom this year, anyway. Theo or no Theo.

Brendan Moran, editor

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