May 20, 2024

Late Monday night, multiple town departments responded to a large fire at the Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town. First hand accounts reported burning of eyes and throats, ash raining down on homes and noxious odors. The Old Town fire department and crews from Bradley, Alton and Hudson responded.

Penobscot Nation Chief Francis advised Tribal members to close windows to stay inside.

The fire was reportedly extinguished at midnight, but the manager of Old Town said, digging was expected Tuesday to be sure.

Juniper Ridge Landfill is publicly owned and privately run by Casella Waste Systems, who is under scrutiny for its importation of out of state waste for disposal in the state owned landfill, and for the impacts of its leachate effluent, which is processed at the ND paper mill in Old Town and dumped into the Penobscot River, just downstream from the Penobscot Nation.

On Tuesday, both the Juniper Ridge Landfill local offices and the Old Town Fire Department declined to comment on Monday’s fire. The Old Town Fire Department saying we should contact Juniper Ridge Landfill and that they “have no comment at this time regarding the matter.” The Juniper Ridge Landfill office in Alton referred us to Casella Waste Systems communications contact at their central office in Vermont, saying, “they are not at liberty to answer any questions”.

Casella Waste Systems communication director, Jeff Weld sent the company’s statement on the landfill fire, which reads in its entirety:

“At approximately 8 pm on May 15 Casella personnel worked alongside local fire personnel to control a fire at the state-owned Juniper Ridge Landfill. The fire was contained at approximately midnight and Casella personnel, along with Thornton Construction and Sargent Construction, continued to bring dirt on site through the morning hours to ensure there is no immediate threat of a reignition. We are grateful to the responding firefighters, to Thornton Construction, Sargent Construction, and to our own landfill personnel who worked to contain the fire. Other than a slight delay in opening Tuesday morning, normal operations have resumed. We will work with appropriate personnel from local and state agencies to determine the cause.”

When asked about any damage to the landfill liner, Weld said, that the fire had occurred 60 feet above the liner, and there was “no damage or concerns of damage to liner.”

Last week, the Maine legislature held a hearing on a bill that would roll back the hard fought and won passage of LD 1639 last session, which restricts the disposal of out of state waste in public landfills.

Casella Waste Systems brought the new legislation (LD 718 on “An Act to Increase the Beneficial Reuse of Construction and Demolition Debris”), complaining that they are not able to acquire enough bulky waste to stabilize the Juniper Ridge Landfill.

At a press conference last night, Harry Sanborn of the citizen group Don’t Waste ME and neighbor to the Juniper Ridge Landfill said the company can use other products to stabilize, like sand. At last week’s public hearing the Maine DEP supported the rollback.

At 10 am this morning, Wednesday, May 17, there will be a Legislative work session in the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources.

Audio Link:

https://legislature.maine.gov/bills/phwksched.html…

For video on you tube channel:

https://www.youtube.com/@environmentandnaturalresou8477

As of yesterday, the Penobscot Nation was concerned they still had received little information on the incident or its impacts. Sunlight Media’s calls have yet gone unanswered.

Last night, residents living adjacent to Juniper Ridge Landfill, Penobscot Nation Citizens, and environmental advocates held a press conference and discussion, calling for action.

Sunlight Media Collective was present to record and live stream at the Juniper Ridge Landfill fire Monday night. Video from that Facebook Live coverage and Facebook Live coverage of last night’s press conference can be seen on Sunlight Media Collective’s Facebook page.

https://www.facebook.com/WabanakiSovereignty/

More coverage and transcripts to follow.