By Madeline St. Amour | www.centralmaine.com | March 15, 2017
A Maine Superior Court justice on Wednesday affirmed state environmental permits for a controversial solid waste plant that would serves dozens of central Maine communities, marking the end of the project’s last legal battle and one of its major hurdles.
The appeal, filed by USA Energy, the Penobscot Energy Recovery Corp., also known as PERC, and Exeter Agri-Energy on Aug. 12, 2016, alleged that the permit approval by the state Department of Environmental Protection was “arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion given the contradictory and conflicting nature of the assertions in applications.”
Maryland-based Fiberight is planning to build a first-in-the-nation solid waste plant in Hampden that will convert trash into biofuel. It’s scheduled to be in operation next year.
The Municipal Review Committee, which represents the solid waste interests of more than 100 Maine municipalities and currently sends their trash to Orrington-based PERC, decided to partner with Fiberight after its PERC contract ends in April 2018. The committee has said it will be the most financially viable option for municipalities to dispose of community waste.
However, critics of the proposed plant have questioned its technical and financial feasibility. The state’s largest environmental advocacy group, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said it was “dumbfounded” when the state Department of Environmental Protection approved Fiberight’s permit applications.
Justice Michaela Murphy, of the Maine Business Court, released the decision Wednesday on the appeal, which affirmed the department’s original actions on the permits.
Greg Lounder, executive director of the review committee, released a statement saying his group was “very pleased” about the decision.
“We were confident that the courts would uphold the permits because of the thorough and detailed review that (the) DEP took before issuing them,” Lounder said in the statement. “Despite the belief that we would prevail, the decision provides relief and additional assurances for our project.”
According to the statement, the court determined that the state environmental department had issued the permits consistent with the laws governing solid waste facilities, and that the record contained “substantial evidence to support DEP’s determinations of Fiberight’s financial ability.”
The court also ruled that the department’s decision not to hold a public hearing on the issue, which drew ire from the project’s opponents, was consistent with its authority.
“The decision sends a strong signal that our project adheres to the environmental laws and regulations in Maine,” Lounder said.
Bob Knudsen, vice president of USA Energy Group, also released a statement on the decision, saying that they stand behind the claims they made in court. He said they are “concerned about the precedent” the DEP has set for future projects, adding that “it is clear that the Court is willing to give the DEP wide discretion in making” those judgments.
Knudsen said that USA Energy Group, which is a majority owner of PERC, does not plan to pursue the matter further.