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Letter to the Editor by Beatrice Johnson

Just a short drive from the University of Maine campus, not far from the banks of the Penobscot River, lies the Juniper Ridge Landfill. Despite its proximity to the university and wafting odors to the surrounding area, many people are blind to this mass dumping zone. This state-owned landfill is growing in size and toxicity each day, impacting the state of Maine in a myriad of ways.

This landfill was founded in 2004 and has been home to out-of-state dumping through a loophole in Maine waste regulations. Approximately one-third of the 179 acre landfill is composed of toxic out-of-state waste from other New England states. Most of the New England states understand the toxicity of construction and demolition debris (CDD) and have set up legislation banning the dumping of such waste in state landfills. Maine, on the other hand, has a loophole in its waste regulations, stating that out-of-state trash that is sent through local processing facilities will be classified as “Maine-generated” waste. The Juniper Ridge landfill allows dumping of Maine-generated waste.

According to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), waste has increased by 31% since 2012 at the Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town. Many factors have contributed to this increase in waste, including rising populations, rollback of recycling programs, and a decreasing amount of municipal landfills. Despite the quantity of municipal landfills decreasing, the size of these landfills is dramatically increasing. For example, the Juniper Ridge Landfill sprawls over 179 acres of what was once Maine wilderness, piling high. From afar, one might mistake this landfill for a mountain. The Juniper Ridge Landfill is indeed a mountain, a mountain of trash.

As a University of Maine student studying ecology and environmental sciences, I feel an obligation to the local environment. Seeing such a mass of waste in my town that is generated out-of-state is something I will never forget. As I drove through the winding roads of the landfill, my car plowed through piles of single use plastics, wind blew grocery bags across the road, and the stench of trash and gas enveloped my vehicle. I looked up at the pile of trash with dismay, with pipes letting the methane and other volatile organic compounds flow into the atmosphere. I knew something must be done to ban the out-of-state waste from taking over our landfills and polluting our surrounding environment. 

Any true Mainer has an undying love for the never ending beauty our state has to offer, whether that be our flowing mountain streams, bold coastline, fields of lupins, or the roaring rivers. Whatever it is that makes you call Maine home, is at risk of environmental degradation. The Juniper Ridge Landfill is in the same watershed as part of the Penobscot River, Stillwater River and Pushaw Lake. The harsh toxic chemicals from the CDD are making their way into our water sources and polluting the resources of the Orono/Old Town area. These changes in river ecology work as a chain reaction and eventually affect coastal areas at the mouth of the Penobscot River, causing potential damage to our tourist industry. 

The Penobscot River is home to the Penobscot Nation, who rely on the river as a natural and cultural resource. The Penobscot Nation has a reservation on Indian Island in the Penobscot River in Old Town. The nation is at risk of losing the ability to fish and use the water as a resource if the leaching of sludge and toxic chemicals reaches the river. Not only are these chemicals a risk for the rivers and lakes nearby, but also the Hirundo Wildlife Refuge that is just down the road from Juniper Ridge. The toxic chemicals are contaminating the water sources, soils and small animals, which could bioaccumulate over time in large animals. This forested area is also fragmented by the 179-acre landfill, affecting larger quantities of edge species like squirrels and deer, changing the natural balance of the ecosystem. There are endless problems that this landfill creates for surrounding wildlife, and the residents of the Orono/Old Town area and potentially the entire state of Maine. 

The problem of out-of-state waste disposal in Maine landfills is something that needs to be resolved. There is no reason other New England states should be dumping their toxic waste in our landfills, polluting our environment, wildlife and communities. Let’s ban out-of-state waste! Sign the petition, inform your neighbors, talk to representatives and keep Maine beautiful.

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