BIDDEFORD — A public hearing on Casella’s future plans for solid waste disposal will delay the sale of the Maine Energy Recovery Company facility, but officials say the purchase ”“ and the closure of the incinerator ”“ will still happen.

The Department of Environmental Protection will be holding a public hearing on the request to amend the license for Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town to allow it to accept municipal solid waste that originates in-state, which currently is disposed of at the Maine Energy Recovery Company waste-to-energy incinerator in downtown Biddeford.

“Given that the proposal reflects a significant shift to Maine’s long-standing solid waste policy with impacts to our state well beyond Biddeford and Old Town, DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho has honored a request received from an Old Town resident to hold a public hearing on this matter,” stated DEP spokeswoman Samantha           DePoy-Warren.

No date for the hearing has been set yet, but it will likely take place in early 2013, according to DePoy-Warren. It will be held in the Augusta area because it is centrally located.

The hearing will delay the sale of the incinerator from Casella Waste Systems Inc., Maine Energy’s parent company, to the City of Biddeford, which was originally expected in November.

Both City Manager John Bubier and Casella Eastern Region Vice President Brian Oliver have said, however, that this delay will not stop the sale and eventual closure of the facility.

Earlier this year, the Biddeford City Council voted to approve spending $6.65 million to purchase the incinerator, which many blame for slow growth in the downtown and mill districts of Biddeford and neighboring Saco.

According to the agreement between the two parties, the sale was to be completed by Nov. 15. The facility was to stop operations within six months of that date and be torn down within a year.

However, all that is on hold until the public hearing is held and the DEP makes a final decision on whether or not to grant the amendment to the license at Juniper Ridge, which is owned by the state and operated by Casella.

The DEP received three requests for a public hearing before the deadline for receipt of those on Tuesday, said DePoy-Warren, 90 letters in all during the 20-day public comment period. In addition to the one request from an Old Town resident, she stated, another was from the City of Auburn.

She said the timeline of the hearing is dictated by the department’s commitment to an inclusive, transparent process and to Maine’s Administrative Procedures Act.

The next step, stated DePoy-Warren, is for the DEP to provide 20 days public notice for those wishing to request intervener’s status ”“ to be a formal party in the process.

DePoy-Warren said one reason for holding the public hearing is that the proposal to amend the license would shift the state’s solid waste policy because municipal solid waste that is currently incinerated would instead be sent to the Old Town landfill. The state’s solid waste hierarchy places incineration as preferable to landfilling waste.

Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant and Saco Mayor Mark Johnston, as well as Oliver, say they support the hierarchy.

The mayors noted in a letter last week that the Juniper Ridge plan will reduce the overall amount of waste in Maine because out-of-state waste, which currently is incinerated in Biddeford, would no longer be coming to that facility.

Bubier pointed out that one of the conditions of the purchase of Maine Energy by the city was that a curbside recycling program would be established for the first time in Biddeford and would very likely lead to an increase in recycling, which is higher up on the solid waste hierarchy than both incinerating and landfilling.

— Staff Writer Dina Mendros can be contacted at 282-1535, Ext. 324 or [email protected].

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