AUGUSTA — Expanding Hatch Hill landfill upward is Augusta’s cheapest option as the city prepares for its landfill to fill up in a projected five years, according to the consultant.

A proposal to expand the landfill vertically would likely cost between $15 million and $20 million and add 12 years or so of life at the current disposal rates, while keeping increases in tipping fees minimal, according to the consultants’ report.

The proposal would rely partly on the communities and commercial customers that use Hatch Hill currently to remain doing so for the next 12 years to make the finances work. The revenues generated from the 40,000 tons of waste brought to Hatch Hill annually would help pay for the expansion.

Some city officials said they worry about the potential liability of continuing to take so much regional waste, fearing some of it could turn out to be contaminated.

Others worry that expanding the landfill but continuing to take regional waste could leave Augusta residents with nowhere to dispose of their waste in about 15 years, when the expansion is full.

Randy Tome, a senior project manager with Woodard & Curran Inc. of Portland, has presented about 10 options the city could consider in deciding what to do with its waste, with Hatch Hill projected to be full in five years.

Each of the other options would involve hauling waste generated by city residents to other facilities. And each was more expensive, with the cheapest option, Tome said, being 20% to 25% more costly than vertically expanding Hatch Hill.

Tome narrowed about 10 options to six because, he said, the remaining options were not cost effective or practical.

Including tipping fees, collection and hauling costs to a get a total disposal cost for each option, Tome said the remaining options and their costs would be per ton:

• Hatch Hill vertical expansion continuing to take regional waste: $161.

• Caselle curbside collection privatized: $200.

• Casella transfer station in Waterville; $202.

• Waste Management Crossroads landfill in Norridgewock: $216.

• Waste Management curbside collection privatized: $218.

• Penobscot Energy Recovery Company in Orrington: $264.

Augusta’s going it alone, without accepting regional waste, would dramatically increase the cost of running the landfill, consultants said, but would dramatically lengthen the life of the landfill — to as many as 84 years — if the facility only took in the 6,000 tons of waste generated annually from the city’s curbside residential rubbish collection.

Continuing to accept regional waste and bringing in 40,000 total tons of waste a year would result in a tipping fee at Hatch Hill of $75 a ton and an anticipated remaining lifespan of about 15 years.

Operating the landfill with only 6,000 tons of waste coming in a year, from Augusta residents only, would extend the lifespan of the landfill to 84 years, if its permit to operate could be extended that long. But, due to fixed costs and much less revenue coming in, would require a tipping fee of $203 a ton.

Ward 3 City Councilor Mike Michaud noted Augusta’s other options for disposing of waste are likely to be even more limited and much more expensive as the options dwindle once the vertical expansion is filled. He said he favored the longer-term approach that would have the city keep the landfill for its own residents, even at the higher cost.

“What’s going to happen in 15 years and how much is it going to cost the taxpayers of Augusta to get rid of all their rubbish?” Michaud said at a Dec. 9 City Council discussion on the issue. “I’m going to sound greedy right now, but $203 (a ton in tipping fees) to have 84 more years of a dump would probably be the most practical way to look at it.

“I might be wrong, but I have a concern that in 15 years, they’re probably going to be putting rubbish in a rocket and sending it to the moon. Who knows.”

Mayor David Rollins said if the landfill were full in 15 years, following a vertical expansion, the city could consider expanding the landfill horizontally to cover more ground.

Tome’s presentation to the council included mention of a horizontal expansion, but noted the city would be wise to do a vertical expansion first to avoid greater costs and permitting requirements.

Tome also warned that even a vertical expansion would require permitting and testing at the site, and design and construction. Those requirements and services would likely take at least four years, and, with the landfill projected to be full in five years, the clock is ticking for Hatch Hill.

City Manager Susan Robertson said the landfill will be an important topic — likely the only one on a meeting agenda — for city councilors to discuss in early 2022.

Ward 4 Councilor Eric Lind said he is concerned about Augusta’s taking on liabilities that could come with accepting 40,000 tons of waste a year from many parts of the region. Specifically, Lind pointed to health and environmental problems in the Fairfield area due to contamination of PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as “forever chemicals” and believed to be from sludge dumping.

“We’re accepting a tremendous amount of liability in this city with all these towns, all these haulers coming in here and dumping,” Lind said. “I don’t want to wake up 10 years from now and get a huge bill for something we accepted and we can’t track it back.

“It could be nuclear waste or something else. I’m willing to accept the risk (of accepting trash from) Augusta residents, but I’m not so much willing to accept the risk from every town around here.”

Tome said a vertical expansion could reduce the chances of environmental damage near or at Hatch Hill because the expansion would be built atop an old section of the landfill, to the far left as one enters the facility.

He added that installing a modern liner in that section of the landfill, which would be required for the expansion, would help prevent contamination from the new top section and older bottom section.

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