Trash is cleared at the Graham Road Landfill in Brunswick. (Times Record File Photo)

BRUNSWICK — Brunswick officials are one step closer to closing the Graham Road Landfill after agreeing to pay $10,000 in fines to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, stemming from years worth of wastewater discharge violations. 

According to Town Manager John Eldridge, the landfill has been in “technical violation” of the permitted landfill ammonia discharge levels since at least 2011. 

The facility, which feeds wastewater through a series of lagoons that contain microbes to eat away dissolved organic matter, is not equipped to treat wastewater for certain chemicals and pollutants, including ammonia, which is especially difficult to break down in colder climates. 

The system was built in 1984, nearly 20 years before the Environmental Protection Agency tightened restrictions for wastewater coming from landfills.

Now, the limits are significantly stricter, even though other facilities that drain into the river, like the Brunswick Sewer District, allow for higher levels of ammonia. The ammonia’s impact on water quality in the Androscoggin River was negligible, Eldridge said, but it was still technically a violation. 

The town studied possible alternatives, but in the end, felt that it could not reduce ammonia to the permitted discharge levels “without significant and expensive enhancements to the wastewater treatment facilities at the landfill,” Eldridge told the town council Monday. 

The violations, in part, led to the decision in 2016 to close the landfill, which is now slated for completion in April. 

The proposed Administrative Consent Agreement between Brunswick and the DEP fines the town $17,000, with all but $10,000 suspended. 

This is just a drop in the bucket compared to the overall cost of the closure, which was originally projected at around $5 million, but with the rise of construction costs, is now roughly $8 million.

Brunswick will be eligible for reimbursement of 75% of the qualifying landfill closure costs, Eldridge said Thursday, though the timing of that reimbursement is uncertain as it depends on the total amount of money available in the reimbursement program.

To prepare, town officials have been working to offset the cost of the closure for years.

Brunswick instituted a pay-as-you-throw trash bag program in 2007, but doubled the cost of bags in 2018 to help pay for the closure. According to town estimates, the program will have generated more than $4 million by 2021. 

In 2017, the Forecaster reported that the town had nearly tripled its intake of trash to generate additional revenue.

At the time, the landfill was projected to take in around 12,000 to 14,000 tons of trash a year, up from the 4,500 tons it used to average. 

According to a November 2019 closure update, the town again boosted its collection rates, and took in more than 20,000 tons from July 2018 to August 2019. The landfill has a total capacity of 400,000 tons.

Eldridge said Thursday that the town is reviewing comments on the closure plan application, and expects to have full approval sometime in the fall. 

Then, they can submit a request for bids to cap the landfill, which will prevent the spread of contaminants. 

Eldridge also announced Monday that officials plan to continue waste and recycling collection and disposal with Casella Waste Systems, and recently signed a one year contract with two optional one-year extensions. 

Once the Brunswick landfill closes, Casella will take garbage to the Pine Tree Waste transfer station in West Bath. 

The town is not planning to create its own transfer station or incinerator, Eldridge said, but will consider what activities can continue at the landfill, such as the disposal of construction debris or metals among options. 

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