Last year, the Maine Legislature passed two bills – L.D. 1911 and L.D. 1639 – that disrupted the way municipal wastewater treatment facilities manage biosolids or “sludge” disposal. L.D. 1911 ended the practice of land-spreading composted biosolids, forcing most of it into the state-owned Juniper Ridge Landfill, while L.D. 1639 cut off the safest and most effective way to bulk up that wet material when it’s disposed at the landfill.

An employee of Ferreira Trucking gets ready to head off after pumping a load of sewage sludge from the Scarborough Sanitary District on March 1. Juniper Ridge Landfill, the only site in Maine that takes wastewater sludge, temporarily stopped accepting sludge last month because it didn’t have enough dry waste like construction debris and household waste to mix with the wet material to create a stable landfill. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer, File

Since L.D. 1911 took effect last August, banning the beneficial reuse of sludge in Maine, more than 1,000 tons per month of additional sludge were brought to Juniper Ridge for disposal – a 15% increase.

Since L.D. 1639 took effect in February, the availability of oversized bulky waste, which is blended with sludge to ensure the landfill’s structural integrity, has fallen by roughly 14%.

Last month, our operating team acted quickly and decisively to avoid a potential catastrophe, and suspended sludge acceptance at the landfill for a brief period. This meant wastewater districts were forced to stockpile the material until an appropriate solution was created.

This wasn’t a hypothetical exercise. Six years ago, the Greentree Landfill in Kersey, Pennsylvania, collapsed partly because of the placement of low shear-strength sludge, resulting in the tragic loss of a life and significant environmental damage. This is a sobering reminder of what can happen when the slope of a landfill fails.

This is why we argued alongside wastewater districts throughout the state against the simultaneous implementation of these two pieces of legislation. It’s why we believe a 24- to 36-month pause in the enactment of L.D. 1639 is crucial to averting a deeper crisis. If not, we will continue to face the real possibility that our sludge cannot be disposed of safely.


Along with our wastewater district partners, we’ve navigated the impact of these new laws for the moment. But we haven’t solved the broader problem, and if circumstances change with our current solution, we will be back to square one.

Activist groups such as the Natural Resources Council of Maine, Don’t Waste ME, Just Zero, Conservation Law Foundation, Slingshot and Defend Our Health have suggested that this is political gamesmanship. They insist that other materials can stabilize sludge in place of oversized bulky waste. While it is true that other materials can be used – and in fact are used at Juniper Ridge – it is important to understand that each material has its own challenges. One example, wood chips, is regularly theorized as a solution. But, in reality, we would need at least twice the amount of wood chips as compared to oversized bulky waste, consuming significantly more landfill capacity. If the goal of L.D. 1639 is to preserve that capacity for Maine waste, this would have the opposite effect.

Furthermore, environmental engineers are skeptical if it is feasible to add that much more carbon-based material to the waste mix without unintended consequences, such as fires. And since there is a beneficial use market for wood chips, with availability fluctuations throughout the year, the costs would exceed the current price being paid by wastewater districts to export sludge to other disposal sites.

Even after detailed evidence of the disruption these two laws created, the vanishing disposal sites for sludge and the unsuitability of alternative bulking materials, people who have no practical ability to run a landfill continue to insist they know better. Sadly, there are legislators who believe them.

Our operators don’t have the luxury of working in theories or playing political games. They operate in real time, with real consequences to their decisions, and they are the best in the business.

To be clear, we have no interest in revisiting the policy to end the spreading of biosolids in Maine at this time. However, the Legislature needs to provide the necessary time to allow the development of new technologies that reduce biosolids amounts before they are landfilled, and it needs to incentivize the deployment of new infrastructure that generates oversized bulky waste from sources within Maine.

We will continue to work to explore all options and welcome the opportunity to partner with any stakeholder in that effort. We would hope that our decades of environmentally responsible management of Juniper Ridge Landfill, and the talented men and women who provide that service, can be a starting point for those discussions.

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