HAMPDEN, Maine — If all goes to plan, Hampden will be home to a proposed $69 million waste-to-energy plant come 2018.
But given the town’s long history of handling solid waste from around the state at the former Pine Tree Landfill, which operated for 35 years before it stopped accepting waste in June 2010, some residents are worried about the potential for odor and traffic.
Called the Sawyer Environmental Recovery Facility when it opened in 1975, the Hampden landfill originally had no liner, and there were no environmental regulations to monitor gas emissions.
Neighbors complained about the stench coming from the landfill, trash fires, damage to the environment and heavy truck traffic, among other things.
During a visit to Virginia late last month, Mayor David Ryder and his wife toured Fiberight’s demonstration plan in Lawrenceville to see firsthand what impacts it is having, if any, on the area in which it operates.
“We had to be down as far as Richmond, Virginia, for family business so I was an hour or so away,” Ryder said last week. “I figured we could go down and look at it.”
“Well, I didn’t see what I thought I’d see. It’s clean outside. It’s all picked up. There wasn’t trash up and down the streets,” he said.
“My wife went in with me. There was no strong odor. Not even inside there wasn’t any. That’s what blew my mind,” he said.
The Virginia plant, he was told, is about 10 times smaller than the one planned for Hampden.
“But you know the thing is they’re still hauling trash in and dumping it and I thought there would be some smell but there wasn’t,” Ryder said. “It was 70 degrees outside and inside there wasn’t any flies or anything swarming around, which there again, kind of surprised me a little bit.”
According to Ryder, “the key to the whole thing is once they receive this trash in, they spray it with an enzyme which helps keep down flies and kills odor. And then once it’s in, they immediately just start putting it in the wash cycles.”
“I talked to the town manager down there and he said they have had zero complaints since 2012,” when the demo plant began operating in Lawrenceville.
Ryder was not able, however, to assess truck traffic while there because he went on a Saturday, when loads of trash were not being delivered.
Potential for odor and truck traffic were the two chief concerns expressed by Hampden residents who attended a public hearing last month conducted by the planning board as part of its site plan review for the proposed plant.
A decision on the site plan application was not made at that time. The review will resume during the planning board’s meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 11.
The Municipal Review Committee and its Maryland-based partner, Fiberight LLC, are proposing to build a 144,000-square-foot waste processing facility with an attached 9,800-square-foot administration building. The facility would be accessed by a new road to be built off Coldbrook Road, according to Dean Bennett, Hampden’s community development director.
At the plant, Fiberight plans to use technology that will change organic materials in trash into biogas after the glass, metal, paper and plastic are recycled. Biogas is similar to natural gas.
While the project is subject to state and federal approval, it also needs town approval to move forward.
Town Manager Angus Jennings also has been following the planning process closely.
“I will tell you we’ve got a strong ordinance in place in terms of odor that’s detectable to the nuisance level at the property line,” he said. “And DEP has its own standards. They’re also stringent on that and part of what we’re trying to work through locally is from a response standpoint. If there is a complaint, where does that go?
“They’ve said they’ll have their own staff surveying the perimeter and the DEP has said to me that if you got the point where your staff, your code enforcement, was getting drawn into odor [complaints], something’s going wrong because that’s our job. That’s what DEP said.”