Lawmakers clashed Monday over a proposal to delay Maine’s ban on out-of-state trash for two years.

Supporters say the operator of the state-owned Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town needs out-of-state construction debris to solve a sewage sludge disposal crisis. The landfill uses discarded furniture and appliances to “bulk up” sewage waste so it can be buried without destabilizing the landfill.

“This is a pause only,” said Rep. Mike Soboleski, R-Phillips. “The language in (the original ban) has not been altered or changed in any way. The dates have been adjusted to allow time for the professionals to work through this crisis and implement solutions.”

Soboleski said the delay would walk the state back from “the precipice of an environmental and health crisis” and ease the financial hardship caused when Casella Waste Systems announced it could no longer accept sludge at Juniper Ridge and must instead haul it to Canada.

Critics like Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, mounted a blistering attack on Casella during testimony.

“Instead of coming up with solutions, Casella has decided to hold our communities hostage,” Bennett said. “Casella seems to have decided it is less expensive to scare Maine taxpayers into changing our laws than investing in solutions to the underlying problem.”


Casella is a $4.7 billion multistate company that rewards executives who make landfill revenue targets, Bennett said. Last month, Casella bragged to investors that its solid waste pricing program had driven quarterly year-over-year earnings up 12.2 percent, Bennett said.

He reminded lawmakers that the Juniper Ridge facility exists to serve Maine people, not Massachusetts.

“Instead of considering this bill before you, we should reconsider our relationship with Casella,” Bennett said. “Our communities should not be held hostage by this $4.7 billion corporation and Maine should not be the dumping ground for New England’s trash.”

Although she said it broke her heart to do so, Sen. Anne Carney, D-Elizabeth, said she would be willing to amend the bill that took effect last year to limit the amount of out-of-state trash allowed to be imported during a delay to just 25,000 tons per year, which is what Casella has said it would need to safely bulk up the sewage sludge.

The proposed bill, L.D. 718, would allow 235,000 tons per year of out-of-state trash into Juniper Ridge landfill, which far exceeds the demonstrated need, Carney said. She noted the construction debris that would be included is known to contain hazardous chemicals such as mercury, lead and arsenic.

“Juniper Ridge is a state-owned asset that should be used to meet the needs of our state,” she said. The amendment will “meet the needs of our municipal wastewater treatment facilities without reopening a loophole that allows an unregulated amount to fill up that asset for the benefit of the for-profit operator.”


Lawmakers said they were only willing to consider the bill if Casella pledged to roll back the hefty sludge disposal fee hikes it began charging sewage treatment plants when it began trucking Maine’s sludge to New Brunswick.

Brian Oliver, Casella’s regional vice president, said that would start within weeks of suspending the ban.

Sen. Stacy Brenner, D-Scarborough, asked what recourse Maine had if Casella reneged on that promise.

John Commons holds a sample of dewatered sludge taken from one of the screw presses Friday at the Greater Augusta Utilities District’s wastewater treatment plant in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“As soon as we get that volume, we will reduce the fees,” Oliver said. “I’m telling you we will.”

Casella and the state Department of Environmental Protection say they need the extra time to find a way to work with Resource Waste Services, a construction and demolition debris recycler in Lewiston, to turn Maine’s existing supply of bulky waste into a sludge stabilizer.

Casella also is building new markets for Maine sludge in states and Canadian provinces that still allow composted or treated sludge to be used as fertilizer. Maine banned what the industry calls “beneficial reuse” because almost all of its sludge is high in harmful forever chemicals.


The DEP supports a two-year pause for now, Commissioner Melanie Loyzim told lawmakers Monday, as it works to find other short-term solutions to the sludge disposal problems. In March, she said DEP was working on a deal to haul Maine sludge to Alabama, Ohio, and Pennsylvania by rail.

“The department supports this delay in order to ensure an adequate supply of structurally large bulky waste to mix with sludge,” she said. “Postponing (the ban) keeps the pressure on these goals while providing short-term flexibility to meet an immediate need – to safely treat Maine’s wastewater.”

Casella and the DEP said they would probably need until the end of the year before they could lock down any of these short-term sludge disposal alternatives. They hope the Canadian option will hold until then, but neither see shipping Maine’s sludge out of state as a permanent fix.


Loyzim has said she hopes to return to the Legislature with a long-term plan to handle Maine sludge disposal within state borders by early next year. She said it’s too early to say what kind of facility that would be, but she warned that permitting and building a new facility will be difficult.

Wastewater treatment plants are investigating various drying and dewatering equipment to reduce the quantity of sludge that must be landfilled, but such purchases are costly and can take a long time to order and install.


Nick Champagne, superintendent of the Kennebec Sanitary Treatment District in Waterville, urged lawmakers to postpone the out-of-state trash ban to give him enough time to prepare for a long-term sludge disposal plan and avoid the possibility of a plant failure that loomed so large in March.

The district already has hired an engineering firm to develop long-term solutions as part of an overall upgrade plan for the 50-year-old facility, which serves about 35,000 people in central Maine, Champagne told lawmakers.

“This bill provides the time needed to allow for these planning efforts,” said Champagne, one of a half dozen sewage plant operators who spoke in favor of the bill. “That’s all I’m asking for, just some time to find some options where we don’t end up where we were a couple of months ago.”

Maine’s sludge disposal emergency came to light in March when Casella started turning away three dozen municipal waste treatment plants bringing sludge to Juniper Ridge, the only facility in the state able to accept large volumes of sludge.

Casella said two environmental laws that Maine adopted last year – one banning the use of sewage sludge for agricultural use and the other prohibiting out-of-state waste at Maine landfills – drove up sludge volumes at the landfill while eliminating the dry waste needed to safely landfill the sludge.

Too much of the wet sludge was threatening the stability of the 122-acre Old Town landfill, Casella told customers, forcing the company to scramble to find a new home for it. Casella said it had started looking for alternative disposal sites last year, but nothing panned out.

Out of desperation, Casella struck a deal to start trucking Maine’s sludge to New Brunswick.

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