By Madeline St. Amour | www.centralmaine.com | October 27, 2016
HAMPDEN, Maine — Years of research, negotiations and advocacy for a new waste disposal solution for more than 100 Maine communities culminated Wednesday in a groundbreaking ceremony that marked the first visible signs of that future.
Construction has started on the road leading to a facility Maryland-based Fiberight is proposing to build.
While Fiberight has chosen its financial backers, the company has yet to secure final approval of its construction financing as it waits to settle an appeal on its permits from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
The Municipal Review Committee, which represents the solid waste disposal interests of 187 Maine communities, held Wednesday’s groundbreaking ceremony at 349 Coldbrook Road in Hampden as construction began on the road and utilities that will lead to a new plant. Fiberight is building the facility, which will separate out recyclables and turn organic waste into biofuels.
“The board and the staff felt really proud to be carrying this project,” said Jessamine Pottle, a review committee spokeswoman, adding that they feel “just tremendous” now that construction is underway.
The new plant is intended to be a solution to increased tipping fees the review committee towns would face after its contract with the Penobscot Energy Recovery Co., known as PERC, ends in 2018. At that time, PERC’s contract to provide energy to Emera Maine at above-market rates also comes to a close, forcing its tipping fees up. The review committee’s board of directors decided that the more financially viable option for its communities would be the yet-to-be-built plant in Hampden.
Nearly 110 communities have agreed to send their trash to Fiberight’s plant after their contract with PERC ends in 2018. Departing members will either stay with PERC or find other ways to deal with their trash, such as landfills.
The groundbreaking ceremony celebrated the beginning of the review committee’s end of the deal with Fiberight, which includes building the road to the proposed site and its infrastructure. The estimated cost, $5 million, will be paid using money from the tipping fee stabilization fund, which has more than $20 million. Construction is expected to continue through January and resume again in April 2017.
Among those who attended the ceremony were the Municipal Review Committee board and its executive director, Greg Lounder; Hampden Mayor David Ryder; and Fiberight CEO Craig Stuart-Paul, as well as officials from member communities who will be sending their trash to the new plant, such as Oakland Town Manager Gary Bowman.
“This is big for the state of Maine,” Bowman said later Wednesday afternoon. “I think it’s big for New England.”
Bowman said he thinks there’s a lot of need in the state for alternatives for solid waste disposal, and he sees Fiberight as one of the more environmentally friendly options.
After the ceremony, the review committee board held a regular meeting at the Hampden Town Office to discuss waiving penalties for an additional town, as well as litigation, the appeal on the facility’s permits and Fiberight’s progress on securing its financing.
PERC filed an appeal with the Kennebec County Superior Court for the reversal of the Fiberight permits issued by the Department of Environmental Protection, citing “deficiencies in the record,” among other things.
Fiberight will have to wait to close on its loans for the project until after the appeal is finalized, Pottle said. At the meeting Wednesday, Stuart-Paul announced that he had selected the other financial partner for the project in addition to Covanta Energy Corp., a major waste-to-energy company. The other partner’s identity is not yet being made public, Pottle said.
Bowman said he’s not worried about the appeal.
“They’re pretty confident they’ll win the appeal,” he said. “I just don’t see this thing stopping, to be honest.”
Pottle said the briefs should be filed in court by January, at which time the court will decide whether to hear oral arguments. Pottle said if the case were to go to oral arguments, she didn’t know how they would affect the construction time line, if at all.
“We will know more in a few months,” she said.
For now, construction of the road and utilities part of the project is on track, she said, and participants still expect to meet the overall time frame so the facility can start accepting waste in April 2018.
Pottle said the board is excited to be moving “away form the planning and on to the development” part of the project.
Bowman also expressed excitement about the project, adding that board members should be proud of what they’ve accomplished.
“This has been an uphill battle, you know,” he said. “It’s like David and Goliath, and David’s going to win this time.”
In other business, the board also voted to allow the town of Carmel to become a joining member of Municipal Review Commitee and waived the penalties for signing on to the Fiberight project late. It was not a unanimous vote, Pottle said, but some board members felt the penalties should be waived, as the town’s board was without a town manager for some time. The new town manager became interested in the project and made a request to join the review committee in August, she said.