What’s next for the Dolby landfill?

Sean Mahoney | @SeanCLF

We wrote about the Legislature’s wrongheaded – fically and environmentally –  pursuit to acquire the leaking and contaminated Dolby landfill two weeks ago. Despite the opposition of several representatives and senators, and a request by Senators Cynthia Dill and Elizabeth Schneider for an opinion from Attorney General William Schneider on the constitutionality of the law, the bill passed and on June 17, Governor LePage signed into law, LD 1567—Resolve, To Authorize the State to Acquire a Landfill in the Town of East Millinocket. If and when the Katahdin mill’s owner Brookfield lines up a buyer for the mills, which currently appears to be International Grand Investors Corp., a Delaware corporation owned by Chinese investors in Taiwan, the state now has the authority to bring the deal to fruition by accepting, on behalf of the State of Maine, Brookfield’s generous donation of the Dolby landfill.

Despite the Dolby landfill’s projected $250,000 in annual operating costs and an estimated $17 million in closure and cleanup costs, the Attorney General’s office concluded on its response to the Senators’ request for a legal opinion  that LD 1567 does not trigger the $2 million debt limitation threshold contained in Article IX, section 14 of the Maine Constitution. Although that result appears counterintuitive given the staggering costs associated with the Dolby landfill, the AG’s office reasons that “LD 1567 does not commit the State to the assumption of any particular debts or liabilities associated with the landfill” and suggests that the SPO can contract away some or all of that liability. Unfortunately, the version of LD 1567 that was passed and signed into law did not incorporate the Attorney General’s suggestion that LD 1567 be amended to require that any contract entered into by the SPO to acquire the Dolby landfill contain a clause limiting the State’s liability for pre-acquisition operation of the landfill.

Although the authority granted under LD 1567 apparently does not trigger Article IX, section 14, the AG’s office concedes that the terms of Article IX, section 14 “will be relevant to the terms of [an] agreement” by which the State takes title to Dolby. Thus, Article IX, section 14 remains part of the conversation. But the extent to which it does remains unclear. To that end, legislators have requested an additional legal opinion from the AG’s office regarding the relevancy of Article IX, section 14 to any contract transferring ownership of the Dolby landfill to the State. Given that Brookfield is just as steadfast in its resolve to dump the landfill as the State is in its resolve to acquire the landfill, it is hard to fathom that Brookfield would agree to remain responsible for the majority of the $17 million in closure and cleanup costs or to indemnify the State for pre-acquisition liabilities associated with the landfill. Would a contract that failed to limit the State’s liability for the Dolby landfill to less than $2 million be subject to approval by two-thirds of the Legislature and a popular vote? Stay tuned . . .

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