LePage Forges Ahead in Quest for Troubled Landfill

Sean Mahoney | @SeanCLF

Postcard depicting the Great Northern paper mill in East Millinocket (top) and the Mt. Katahdin skyline (bottom).

With the close of this legislative session looming, the LePage administration and proponents in the Legislature are continuing their push for passage of L.D. 1567—“Resolve, To Authorize the State To Acquire a Landfill in the Town of East Millinocket.”  Pursuant to this resolve, the State Planning Office (SPO) would have the authority to acquire ownership (either by purchase or donation) of a leaking landfill that has limited remaining capacity, annual operating costs of $250,000, contamination issues, and closure costs estimated at $17 million and rising.

The administration apparently considers granting the State the ability to acquire the Dolby landfill absolutely essential to finding a buyer for two currently shut down pulp and paper mills in East Millinocket and Millinocket.  Brookfield Asset Management, LLC, through its subsidiary Katahdin Paper Company, owns the mills and the Dolby landfill, which has been accepting waste from those mill operations for over thirty years.  Brookfield claims it cannot find a buyer for the mills because no prospective buyer wants anything to do with the landfill.  Not surprising considering that any new owner would acquire the $17 million liability associated with the Dolby landfill.  Including the state.

Although that liability has effectively deterred private buyers, it has not given the state nearly enough pause, especially considering that, as currently configured, L.D. 1567 works a violation of the state Constitution.  Article 9, section 14 of the Maine Constitution limits the State’s ability to create a debt or liability in excess of $2 million by requiring that two-thirds of the House and Senate and a majority of the electorate approve the bond issuance needed to fund the liability.

Accordingly, my op-ed in the Portland Press Herald highlighted both the amount of the liability attached to the Dolby landfill and the corresponding Constitutional issue.  That op-ed was succeeded by my written request to the Attorney General’s office for an opinion on the constitutionality of L.D. 1567.  Those efforts prompted further discussion in Senate debate and ultimately resulted in Senators Dill and Schneider formally requesting that the Attorney General render an opinion on the constitutionality of L.D. 1567.

While these efforts and continuing press coverage have succeeded in creating additional debate, the bill’s proponents recently amended the text of L.D. 1567 to classify it as emergency legislation in attempt to speed up its prospective implementation.  Such textual changes do not nullify the Constitutional issues presented by L.D. 1567.  Accordingly, we encourage people to contact their Senators to ensure that L.D. 1567 does not take affect until it has undergone the process mandated by the Constitution.  A proposal that enables Brookfield to dump its liability for the Dolby landfill, allows a new owner to purchase the mills for one dollar without acquiring any liability associated with the Dolby Landfill, and authorizes the SPO to accept on behalf of the State of Maine Brookfield’s generous donation of a leaking landfill and all the liability that accompanies its ownership most certainly deserves the additional consideration and process that the Constitution imposes.   Additional process that the LePage administration called for back in February.




About the CLF Blog

The views and opinions expressed on this blog do not necessarily represent the opinions or positions of Conservation Law Foundation, our boards, or our supporters.