The state of Maine is steadily moving forward in its quest to potentially purchase an East Millinocket landfill as part of an effort to save two paper mills that are responsible for hundreds of jobs in the Katahdin region. The State’s rationale is that in order for the mills to be acquired and reopened by a new company, the liability of the landfills that have been the recipient of waste from the mills for decades must be separated from the mills themselves.
While the intent of the State to try and resurrect the source of up to 600 jobs in the Katahdin region is a good one, this action brings to mind the old saw that “the path to hell is paved with good intentions.” If the state were to acquire the landfills, the facility’s operations and maintenance costs alone are estimated to be a minimum of $250,000 a year. Those costs pale in comparison to the estimated $17 million to clean up and close the landfills (which only have a few years of capacity left) and does not include costs to clean up groundwater or soils contaminated by more than two decades of unpermitted landfill leachate (liquid that moves through or drains from the landfill) that has been discharged into the groundwater and surface waters in the region, discharges that are ongoing and in violation of both state and federal laws.
CLF raised these concerns in a letter to the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee last week, and called for the Committee to thoroughly explore the liability issues the state might incur as a result of purchasing the landfill, as well as how the State would provide funding to properly close and clean up the contamination associated with the landfill. Right now, the state has no dedicated source of funds to meet those costs. In addition, there is a potential constitutional issue concerning the State’s ability to take on such a large liability without a two-thirds vote of support in the Legislature and approval by the people. CLF will continue to review this issue and determine whether or not action is necessary to address the issue of unpermitted discharges with the DEP and the Legislature.