BRUNSWICK — Based on an ongoing assessment of the Graham Road Landfill, the town is preparing a plan to close the site over a five-year period.
The closure will cost $5-6 million, Town Manager John Elridge told the Town Council Monday.
The council also resolved to analyze and prepare ways the town can mitigate an aggressive infestation of browntail moths next spring after this summer’s infestation caused skin rashes and harm to area trees.
The landfill has a history of failing to meet Department of Environmental Protection standards, which have tightened since the landfill was built in 1984.
In addition to a license from the DEP Bureau of Remediation and Waste Management to operate the landfill, the town also needs a permit from the DEP Bureau of Land and Water Quality because the landfill discharges wastewater into the Androscoggin River.
In 2004, the town reapplied for its wastewater permit, only to learn that it was no longer able to comply with the updated standards.
The 30-year-old facility – which feeds wastewater through a series of lagoons that contain microbes to eat away dissolved organic matter – was not equipped to treat wastewater for certain chemicals and pollutants. Included in that group is ammonia, a newly regulated category found in the landfill’s wastewater.
The landfill also violates three federal drinking water standards, according to a review by the DEP in the 2013 town report.
In a memo, Eldridge reported that the town is working with engineering consultants from Woodard and Curran, but every indication of their analysis so far finds that options to treat the wastewater and groundwater are cost-prohibitive.
In August 2014, the town met with former DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho, who recommended the town close the landfill.
She said that if the town closed the landfill by the end of 2015, it would be eligible for a 75 percent reimbursement by the state for closure costs.
Knowing that wasn’t enough time, Eldridge worked with the DEP to submit a bill to the Legislature that extended the eligibility period for another five years; the bill passed in 2015, according to the memo. Eldridge understood that the five-year schedule would go into effect after the amendment went into effect and Woodard and Curran completed their final analysis.
But some DEP officials remember the agreement differently, and Eldridge learned earlier this year that some within the DEP aid that not only did the clock start ticking in August 2014, but that Brunswick should only be eligible for reimbursement if the town can prove by analysis that all alternatives to closure are cost-prohibitive.
The DEP has since undergone some personnel changes, and Eldridge met with new DEP Commissioner Paul Mercer on Sept. 13 to address the confusion. Mercer said he was committed to working with the town to close the facility over a five- year schedule, according to Eldridge’s memo.
Eldridge said conversations with the DEP are continuing, and the town is still waiting on a final analysis from Woodard and Curran.
Because the possibility of reimbursement puts the town in a time-sensitive position, Eldridge recommended that the council form a task force to oversee the closure process, as well as look into ways to pay for the remaining $2.5 closure cost.
One of the ways to close the gap would be to take on more trash, Eldridge proposed.
The town will also have to decide what to do with its trash in the future.
Eldridge told the Council to expect further details as soon as conversations with the DEP and consultants develop.
Assistant Town Manager Derek Scrapchansky reported Monday that the majority of complaints his office received this summer had to do with browntail moth caterpillars.
The public further showed their interest in the problem Sept. 28, when nearly 200 people attended a forum at the Curtis Memorial Library to hear a panel of experts discuss ways to prevent the spread of caterpillars. Councilor Kathy Wilson and Chairwoman Sarah Brayman attended the panel.
Brayman noted Monday that the caterpillars present Brunswick with ecological and economic problems in addition to being a health hazard: caterpillars damage the trees when they strip the leaves, and, due to the rashes they cause, deter tourists from visiting the area.
Based on the council discussion, the town will consider combating next year’s population with chemicals, such a spraying area trees with pesticide in early spring to prevent larvae from developing their toxic hair, as explained on the Maine Department of Forestry website.
Vice Chairman Steve Walker suggested prioritizing highly used and public areas first, such as school athletic fields.
Wilson said she learned from the library panel that residents can take precautionary, non-chemical steps to stymie future growth in already-affected trees by removing infested branches and dunking them in soapy water.
Brayman noted that there are no statewide resources devoted to the mitigation of browntail moths, and the responsibility to fight them off is incumbent on the town.
She suggested that a certain level of “community buy-in” might also be necessary to effectively combat the problem. For example, if someone sprays the trees on their property but their neighbor doesn’t, airborne hairs from the neighbor’s infested trees would cancel out the preventative efforts in the area.
After years of conversations with the Department of Environmental Protection, the town is preparing to close the Graham Road Landfill, which has a long history of environmental violations.