NORRIDGEWOCK — The governor has signed a bill to allow the last remaining commercial landfill in Maine to expand.

Gov. Paul LePage signed L.D. 879 on Friday, opening the way for Crossroads Landfill to expand onto an additional 175 to 200 acres if it acquires all the necessary permits.

Owned by Waste Management, the landfill is expected to run out of room in about 2022. While some people have decried the possibility of more trash coming into Norridgewock, others have stressed that the landfill is needed by area towns and businesses.

For the governor, deciding whether to approve the bill involved examining the effect its eventual closure would have on remaining competition, said Adrienne Bennett, a spokeswoman for LePage.

“This falls into play into the administration’s thinking that there shouldn’t be a monopoly of landfills in the state,” she said.

If the Norridgewock facility closed, there would be just one major landfill left: 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.

There is enough landfill capacity in Maine in the short term, she said, so “this is more about creating more competition within the solid waste industry.”

Sponsored by House Majority Leader Philip Curtis, R-Madison, the bill has been in the works since 2009 and was postponed twice.

On Monday, Waste Management District Manager Jeff McGown said the company is pleased to have an answer finally and now can begin the long process of potentially expanding.

“We have invested a lot of time in this, and we’re very excited. We feel very fortunate that it’s complete. Now we will go into the planning process of evaluating future capacity needs and looking specifically at the land available to us and work with landowners to negotiate formal options on the property,” he said.

A Maine State Planning Office report released in January sheds light on the overall picture of waste disposal capacity in the state. Relying on the most recent data available, from 2010, the report shows the state has sufficient disposal capacity to last until 2020.

The long-term picture shows that Maine is projected to need about 22.8 million cubic yards of landfill capacity during the next 20 years, based on current disposal rates. The state currently has only 17.4 million cubic yards of licensed capacity.

The amount of waste that people generate depends in part on the health of the economy, according to the report. In 2010, Maine produced less waste for a second consecutive year. Generation decreased 3 percent, from 1.78 million tons in 2009 to 1.72 million tons in 2010. Recycling rates followed suit.

Some Norridgewock residents and environmentalists have opposed Crossroads’ potential expansion, but McGown said it’s important to remember that the bill does not give the company authority to grow immediately. It still must buy the land and undergo the permitting process, which includes a mandatory public meeting in town.

The current law doesn’t allow landfills to expand on land they didn’t own before 1989. It was designed to limit the creation of new commercial landfills that accept trash from other states.

Though people have expressed concern about Waste Management accepting more out-of-state waste if it expands, the landfill’s representatives say there are controls to prevent the company from doing so.

Currently, Crossroads Landfill accepts about 20 percent of its waste from out of state and is mandated to accept no more than 35 percent.

The bill will become law 90 days after the end of the legislative session.

Erin Rhoda — 612-2368

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