Earl Hughes of Hartland says odors from the nearby municipal landfill have made life miserable for him and his wife, Paula, forcing them to stay inside when the wind blows the wrong way. “I’d like to cry because my house smells like that,” says Paula Hughes, who has lived with Earl on Martin Street for 49 years. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

HARTLAND — The odors from the Hartland Landfill are so bad at times that Earl and Paula Hughes say the smell wakes them in the middle of the night.

Their grandchildren will not visit when the odors are bad, according to the couple. And there are times Earl and Paula Hughes cannot sit outside or open their windows if the wind is blowing toward their house.

“I’d like to cry because my house smells like that,” said Paula Hughes, who has lived with Earl on Martin Street in Hartland for 49 years.

On Martin Street, the couple have a front-row seat to a landfill that has become a contentious issue in the Somerset County town of fewer than 1,000 residents. Their house sits a few hundred feet from the landfill at which the town accepts sludge and other waste from across Maine.

The landfill is just south of Route 43/151, near the center of Hartland.

Some residents say town officials, along with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, do not do enough to mitigate the odors, respond to concerns and protect the landfill’s neighbors.


Town officials, however, say they do what they can to keep odors contained and address complaints.

And if the landfill is to be closed one day, which some neighbors hope will be sooner rather than later, the town must continue to operate the landfill to save millions of dollars needed to close the facility — a plan approved by voters.

“There are no easy answers to our situation,” Town Manager Christopher Littlefield said.


The odors that the Hughes and other residents sometimes smell is hydrogen sulfide gas, which gives off a stench similar to that of rotten eggs.

The gas is produced by the decomposition of sludge, the solid left over from wastewater treatment, and other industrial processes, according to Littlefield, who is also Hartland’s landfill manager. He was hired in 2013.


Since the landfill was first licensed in 1977, its main purpose has been for sludge disposal. The town’s tannery, which opened in the 1930s and once employed several hundred people, worked with the town to open Hartland’s wastewater treatment plant in the 1970s, amid a nationwide push for more environmental regulations.

The sludge produced at the plant was then brought to the landfill, which the town leased from the various owners of the tannery over the years, until ownership was transferred to the town in 2005.

The tannery, last owned by Tasman Leather Group, closed in 2020.

In 2015, as the tannery struggled financially and began paying significantly less for the operation of the wastewater treatment plant, the town was licensed to accept wastewater sludge from other municipalities, according to records provided by Littlefield.

In 2016, the permitted waste was expanded to paper mill sludge, construction debris, ash and certain other waste.

In the years that followed, concerns increased about the odors, according to records of landfill complaints obtained under the Maine Freedom of Access Act.


The Hartland landfill as seen last week from Martin Street. Neighbors complain of harsh odors from the site, and poor management by the town and state. Officials, however, say they are doing what they can to address the problems, while working on a voter-approved plan to close the landfill. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

The town has a standardized system for logging and responding to complaints. Landfill staff members use a form to record details of each complaint, list observations from the site of the complaint, note relevant landfill operations from the day of the complaint, analyze weather and odor data and list corrective measures that were taken.

Between 2018 and 2021, the town received at least 100 complaints each year. The town does not have complaints on file for 2022 and 2023. But in 2024, complaints began again, with about a dozen on file by mid-April.

Records show many complaints come from the same residents, including Earl and Paula Hughes. In 2021, an analysis conducted by landfill staff members found eight people were responsible for essentially all of the 167 complaints received that year.

The increase in odor complaints has come from the landfill’s Phase IV, a 5.3-acre expansion approved by town voters in 2021 that began accepting waste daily in March 2023, Littlefield said. Measurements support residents’ complaints in many recent instances, he said.

This time, complaints are coming from farther away.

Jim Towle, who has lived in Hartland since 1973, said that in recent months, he has been able to smell the hydrogen sulfide odors at his house on Great Moose Drive, which is at least a mile from the landfill.


Christopher Ring, who also lives on Great Moose Drive, agreed.

“In the past six months or so, things have definitely changed, and things have gotten worse,” said Ring, who has lived in Hartland for more than a decade.

Roderick Pease, who lives on Riverside Drive, about 1,000 feet from the landfill, said the worsening odors are causing him to consider moving from Hartland.

“I’ve lived here 32 years. I’m going,” Pease said. “I’m heading for Burnham. I’m done. I’ve had enough. That’s how bad it’s gotten.”


Littlefield said he understands the complaints, even though the town takes several steps when odors are reported.


He said a trained landfill employee measures the odor using a technique known as n-butanol, which identifies intensity, duration and frequency of odors. The town also uses two machines that measure hydrogen sulfide gas, and is working on buying a machine that measures five gases.

The landfill also has piping that collects the odorous gas and directs it to be treated, Littlefield said. The system was finished this week.

When odors outside the landfill are confirmed, staff members use covering made of various materials, Littlefield said. In January, for example, landfill staff members spread 590 yards of ash, 2,000 gallons of lime slurry and 2,716 yards of dirt, according to town records.

“As we have progressed, we continue to add to our toolbox,” Littlefield said.

A pod containing a chemical to treat hydrogen sulfide gas odors is in use during the winter at the Hartland Landfill. The hydrogen sulfide gas, produced by the decomposition of sludge, produces the rotten egg smell described by the landfill’s neighbors. Photo courtesy of Christopher Littlefield

The state DEP, which issues permits for landfills, also works with the town of Hartland on odor complaints, officials said.

When the department receives complaints, it typically delegates the response to town staff members, according to Deputy Commissioner David Madore. The town also provides its log of complaints, data and corrective actions to the DEP, Madore said.


The DEP can take enforcement actions if there is sufficient evidence of a violation, Madore said. But the department has not taken formal enforcement actions in relation to the Hartland Landfill in recent years, according to DEP records.

“The Department is aware of operations-related issues that we are, or previously have been, working with the Town on such as odor control, cover material placement, monitoring etc.,” Madore wrote in an email. “These types of compliance-related discussions are similar to others we have with similar waste disposal facilities on an ongoing basis.”

Some residences, including Earl and Paula Hughes’ house on Martin Street, are within the 1,000-foot setback required by the Maine DEP for landfills. Earl Hughes said he does not understand why the homes are allowed to be so close.

The landfill was granted a variance when it applied for a license to expand in 1986 because the closest home is upgradient of groundwater flow and there is a wooded buffer area, Madore said, referencing the application.


The 1986 expansion that brought the landfill closer to Martin Street was just one of several expansions. In 2015, the landfill was expanded in what town officials call Phase III, as the town began to accept more waste, while the tannery declined.


Four years later, voters at a special town meeting gave the green light for the town to develop a closure plan. They rejected an article, however, that would have immediately closed the landfill.

The closure plan that was subsequently developed included plans for a 5.3-acre expansion to the 3.5 acres of phases I, II, and III. The expanded landfill from Phase IV would allow the town to raise enough revenue over about 20 years — without increasing taxes — to eventually close the entire operation, officials said at the time.

In 2021, voters approved the expansion at a secret ballot referendum election. They also authorized the town to borrow up to $3.53 million to finance the construction of Phase IV.

Before that vote, town officials presented two options, according to a copy of a public presentation: Option A, to close the landfill immediately at an estimated cost of $3.47 million, raised almost entirely through a large increase in taxation; and Option B, to approve the town’s plan to borrow money, with the goal of minimizing future taxation.

“The public continues to support this process,” Littlefield said. “We’ve had two town meetings and voted on it twice. And overwhelmingly, they continued to support it.”

The former Hartland tannery, which closed in 2020, is pictured last week. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

The landfill operates as a stand-alone entity, with all expenses paid for through revenues, Littlefield said. No taxes are used to fund its operations.


Excess revenue is used to pay debt service for opening cells, then saved for temporary cover, then used for closure and finally used to cover post-closure expenses, Littlefield said. Some landfill revenue also goes toward costs in the wastewater treatment plant budget, which took a major hit in revenue when the tannery closed in 2020.

Closure costs are estimated to total about $8.5 million, including $3 million in debt from the expansion, $3.5 million for the steps necessary to close the landfill and at least $2 million for post-closure costs, such as monitoring.

Hartland has about $126,000 set aside in a reserve account for closure, Littlefield said. Money set aside in other landfill reserve accounts designated for opening costs have been spent on landfill equipment, fighting a lawsuit around relicensing of the landfill, addressing odors and building the new cell, Littlefield said.

A survey of landfill capacity scheduled for June is expected to determine how much more the town can set aside, Littlefield said. Based on available data, Littlefield estimates the landfill has five to seven years of operational capacity until it can close.


Ring, the Great Moose Drive resident, said he disagrees with the town’s approach. He said the town should work toward closing the landfill sooner.


Ring is running for selectman this Friday because of what he sees as mismanagement of the landfill’s environmental impact and town officials’ resistance when residents raise concerns.

Ring’s opponent, incumbent Jerry Martin, did not respond to multiple requests for comment over the past week.

Ring said that while the landfill’s odors are concerning, there should be greater worry about the high levels of PFAS — per and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, known as “forever chemicals” — that are known to cause medical problems in humans.

A Maine DEP report published in January found that Hartland’s landfill had the highest concentration of PFAS among 25 Maine landfills that were sampled, the Portland Press Herald reported.

There is no evidence, however, that PFAS is escaping the landfill or in drinking water.

Even so, the town should move away from accepting sludge, which likely contains PFAS, Ring said.

“Let’s switch to these alternative waste streams,” he said, “so that we can continue to fund the operations, not have it go bankrupt or create a tax burden on the citizens, while we work to secure funding through grants to get the ultimate closure project complete.”

For Earl Hughes, who lives with his wife, Paula, on Martin Street, the landfill’s closure cannot come soon enough.

“Eventually, they’re going to have an environmental catastrophe here,” he said, looking from his driveway to the landfill next door. “They can’t control it. They can’t take care of it. Something’s going to happen over there.”

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