AUGUSTA — Crossroads Landfill, operated by Waste Management in Norridgewock, is the last remaining commercial landfill in Maine.

If it is not allowed to expand once it reaches capacity in 10 years, dozens of communities and businesses, including Bath Iron Works, Madison Paper Industries, and Madison’s Backyard Farms, could have to spend more money to send their trash elsewhere.

It’s also possible a competing state-owned landfill in Old Town could raise prices since there would be no remaining competition, argued those in favor of a bill on Wednesday that would allow Crossroads Landfill to expand.

But if the landfill expands, it’s possible it will accept more out-of-state waste, responded opponents of the bill.

And residents living near the landfill could possibly be harmed through leaching material, bad smells or if there’s an unforeseeable accident. Those residents should be properly compensated for having to live near the landfill, opponents of the bill said.

Residents and town officials from across central and western Maine turned out Wednesday at the Burton M. Cross Building in Augusta to share their opinions with the Environment and Natural Resources Committee on a bill — L.D. 879 — that would allow the landfill to expand, possibly onto 175 contiguous acres.

If the bill passes, Sen. Thomas Saviello, R-Wilton, a chairman of the committee, said it would be a “major change in state policy.”

At its current size, the landfill is expected to run out of room for solid waste in 2021 or 2022. As the law is written now, landfills can’t expand onto land they didn’t own before 1989.

“If L.D. 879 is passed it absolutely does not mean Waste Management can begin construction,” said Rep. Phil Curtis, R-Madison, who sponsored the bill. Passing the bill is one of the first steps in a process that will take six to eight years.

First the company has to purchase the property, Curtis said. Then it has to complete environmental surveys, seek approval from the town planning board, negotiate a new host agreement with the town and submit an expansion application with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Waste Management has invested $50 million into the community, Curtis said, and it wants to be able to continue to provide more than 30 jobs.

Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, said the bill raises a larger issue of how the state wants to handle out-of-state waste. The law Waste Management is seeking to amend was created in 1989 to ban new commercial solid waste disposal facilities, which accept trash trucked in from other states.

“Maine people made a decision back in the ’80s that they did not want out-of-state waste,” Martin said. “Do we want a facility that allows out-of-state coming in-state, or do we want to restrict out-of-state waste?”

Slightly more than 20 percent of the Norridgewock facility’s waste comes from out of state, said Jim Mitchell, a spokesman for Waste Management.

Maine didn’t want to be the dumping ground for Massachusetts back in the 1980s largely because it wanted to preserve valuable landfill space for in-state waste, Mitchell said. But Waste Management is also limited by its contract in how much trash it can take from out of state, he said.

He added that it makes more economic sense for Waste Management to truck most out-of-state waste to its landfill in Rochester, N.H., rather than the one in Norridgewock.

The bill should be passed in order to ensure competition, he said. If the Norridgewock facility closed, there would be just one landfill in the state: Juniper Ridge in Old Town, which is owned by the state and operated by New England Waste Services of Maine, LLC, a subsidiary of Casella Waste Systems.

The town managers from Carrabassett Valley and Jay, along with Madison’s economic development director agreed with Mitchell that the bill would be good for the region. Retaining Waste Management will keep disposal rates lower, they said.

Mickey Wing, who runs Central Maine Disposal, said ensuring Waste Management’s survival will be good for trash haulers, too.

“Norridgewock is vital to the survival of my business,” Wing said. “Without it I believe Casella will have a monopoly.”

“We believe we need to encourage business development and growth and not discourage it by placing undue regulations on the private sector,” added Jim Batey, executive director of the Somerset Economic Development Corporation.

Lynne Williams, a Bar Harbor attorney, argued for her client and Norridgewock resident Gloria Frederick that people should come before business.

“The theme of this administration seems to be business needs certainty,” she said. “But people need certainty, too.”

She urged the committee to consider an amendment to the bill that would provide financial compensation for all abutters to Crossroads.

“It’s not unknown nationally for solid waste facilities to negotiate with neighbors,” she said. “They do this quite honestly to prevent future nuisance lawsuits.”

Norridgewock Town Manager Michelle Flewelling asked the committee to delay a decision on the bill for up to six months, so the town could have time to discuss the issues with residents and Waste Management.

“What is overwhelmingly clear is this is an extraordinary situation that has the potential to create a town divided,” she said.

Residents of Norridgewock, Appleton, Washington, Athens also spoke in opposition to the bill.

“Maine is a beautiful state. It is known for how clean it is, it’s peacefulness, its beautiful natural resources,” said Frederick, who lived in Norridgewock before the landfill was created. “Do we the citizens of Maine really want to open the doors to out-of-state waste?”

Erin Rhoda — 474-9534