Last week a coalition representing most of the local municipal transfer stations in the midcoast suffered a setback when the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced its intent to reject a proposal by the Municipal Review Committee (MRC) to build a 25- to 70-acre landfill in Greenbush or Argyle as part of an integrated waste management facility.

The DEP stated that the landfill does not meet the review criteria for a Public Benefit Determination (PBD) permit because the MRC's disposal capacity projection didn't take into account existing landfill capacity in the state.

"The department found that there is sufficient existing disposal capacity; thus a new landfill would be inconsistent with the State's solid waste hierarchy, which puts landfilling last," wrote DEP spokesperson Jessamine Logan.

Currently, most local towns ship their municipal solid waste (MSW) to the Penobscot Energy Recovery Company (PERC) in Orrington to incinerate and convert into electricity. However, due to the expiration of a lucrative power purchasing agreement and outdated waste-to-energy technology, the facility will be forced to sell power at a much lower market price after March 2018. The MRC estimates that tipping fees would be too costly to continue operating the facility.

In January, the MRC board voted to study the feasibility of contracting with fuel-to-fiber company Fiberight to develop a fully integrated solid waste management system that would remove organics from the waste stream and convert them to high-value biofuels. Fiberight claims it would be able to recover 80 percent more of the incoming MSW, which would mean less landfill disposal, but it would still need landfill space to dispose of leftover processing residuals. The MRC had hoped to site the central solid waste processing facility and landfill in the same place. This way, proponents believed that the residuals would not need to be transferred to another facility at disposal rates much higher than it would cost at a facility the towns owned and controlled themselves.

However, the landfill proposal drew strong opposition from neighboring residents who feared its impact on the environment. In its decision, the DEP stated that it supported the MRC's vision for an integrated waste management facility and is open to assisting the organization in seeking solutions for its waste disposal needs in the future.

In a letter to the organization's member towns, MRC Executive Director Greg Lounder said that the group will now work on making arrangements to secure disposal capacity with facilities owned or controlled by other entities.

"We are disappointed and concerned that the DEP would not recognize the capacity need demonstrated by our application and the merit of having disposal capacity under public control as is the case with Maine's two remaining waste-to-energy processing facilities," wrote Lounder.

At a meeting on August 13, MRC attorney Dan McKay said that it is "not beyond the realm of possibility" that the MRC could work out an arrangement to secure landfill space with Casella Waste Systems, which operates the state-owned Juniper Ridge landfill in Old Town. However, he noted that the state has "very little, practically zero control over the facility" and the costs would likely be much higher than a landfill that is owned and controlled by MRC member towns. Lounder said that the MRC will provide an update of the organization's progress in developing a solution in the weeks leading up to the board's upcoming meeting on October 22.