ELLSWORTH — Two months after it shut down due to unpaid bills, the Coastal Resources of Maine plant in Hampden has been placed in receivership by its bondholder trustees, meaning a company has been appointed by a court to oversee the operation until a new arrangement has been made, said Municipal Review Committee (MRC) board member Bob Butler in an email this week.
Butler said it’s uncertain when the plant will be able to resume operations. The MRC board is “not in a position to make predictions concerning the resumption of CRM’s [Coastal Resources of Maine] operations,” he wrote. “The MRC does have expectations that progress is being made in the ongoing discussions with the stakeholders.”
The plant has been shut down since late May, after an expected $14.7 million in funding fell through. Equipment is being maintained by a skeleton crew of four, Butler said.
In the meantime, roughly 75 percent of the waste from the 115 MRC member towns that had been sending material to the Hampden facility is being sent to Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. (PERC) in Orrington, where it is burned for energy. The rest is diverted to Crossroads landfill in Norridgewock.
John Thibodeau of Windsor Associates in South Portland has been appointed as receiver, Butler said. In a statement, committee members said, “We believe this is a positive step because up to now, all final decisions had to go through the bondholder trustee and legal counsel in Boston, which was not an efficient means of doing business.”
Having an appointed entity in Maine, they wrote, “will both relieve the MRC of tasks it had assumed in order to keep the plant secure as well as help move the process along more efficiently with any potentially new investors.”
Asked whether this meant the company is taking steps toward bankruptcy, Butler replied that, “Receivership is a different process than bankruptcy. To the best of our knowledge, CRM is not taking steps towards bankruptcy,” although he noted that Coastal Resources would be better able to answer the question. The committee also is unaware of plans to liquidate any assets, said Butler, although he added that “It is too early in the process” and that CRM would be the one to say.
A spokeswoman for Coastal Resources, Shelby Wright, did not respond directly to questions but sent a statement saying that: “Fiberight intends to work with the receiver in a collaborative, cooperative and transparent manner going forward. We plan to assist the receiver in his efforts to get the Hampden facility reopened as quickly as possible so that Coastal may resume all services to the communities that comprise the Municipal Review Committee (MRC) and serve the interests of Coastal’s vendors and suppliers.”
The Coastal Resources plant is frequently known by the technology it uses, which has been developed by Fiberight.
Butler said the MRC is reviewing “four or five proposals from interested parties” who could run the plant but “is not willing to discuss any proposals at this time.”
Coastal Resources, which leases the land the plant is on from the MRC, is also facing a $1.2-million lawsuit from the company it hired to operate and staff the plant, NAES Corp., alleging unpaid expenses. Coastal Resources is looking for another operator, said Butler, who said the MRC is not a party to the lawsuit and will not comment on it.
Coastal Resources of Maine has been in violation of its contract with the MRC since June 26. But MRC board members have been optimistic and elected not to terminate the committee’s master waste supply agreement with Coastal. Even though the facility’s shuttering constituted an unacceptable breach under the terms of the supply agreement, committee legal counsel Jon Pottle said last month, the contracts in place make reopening the facility a worthwhile endeavor.
“We don’t believe [terminating the agreement] makes sense while we’re undertaking these efforts and while there’s a reasonable prospect to reopen the facility,” Pottle said. “We’re going to continuously monitor those and evaluate and re-evaluate that, but that is the current posture.”
The MRC is scheduled to hold a virtual town hall on Aug. 19 at 10 a.m.