Addressing the Bar Harbor Town Council Tuesday night were (foreground) Dan McKay, a Municipal Review Committee attorney (middle) Greg Lounder, executive director of the MRC and Craig Stuart-Paul, CEO of Fiberight. PHOTO BY LIZ GRAVES

Fiberight proposal gets Town Council backing

BAR HARBOR — A regional proposal to send trash to a new facility in Hampden beginning in 2018 was backed by town councilors in a 7-0 vote on Tuesday.

Bar Harbor became the second municipality to sign on to the 15-year agreement, following a decision by the Brewer city council Jan. 26.

The Municipal Review Committee is a group of 187 communities that currently send their municipal solid waste (MSW) to the Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. (PERC) waste-to-energy plant in Orrington. Members include every municipality in Hancock County except Ellsworth, Deer Isle and Eastbrook. MRC member communities stretch from Mars Hill in the north to Wiscasset in the south.

MRC staff and board, headed by Bar Harbor Public Works head Chip Reeves, put out a request for proposals in 2013 for new companies to work with after the contract with PERC expires in 2018. The proposal from Fiberight, the company proposing to build and operate the new waste-to-biogas plant, provided “more diversion from the landfill at less cost than any other option,” Reeves told the council Tuesday.

On hand to answer councilors’ many questions were MRC Executive Director Greg Lounder, Fiberight founder and CEO Craig Stuart-Paul, MRC’s attorney Dan McKay and consultant George Aronson of Commonwealth Resource Management Co. No representatives from PERC were at the meeting, but councilors referred to written materials distributed by the company in their questions.

Aronson said he has heard from officials in several towns looking for assurance the plant will definitely be built if they sign on to the agreement.

“We didn’t want someone selling us a concept, and we did not want to look at a situation where tip fees don’t cover operating costs. We went to the demonstration plant in Virginia, to see it and smell it.”

Fiberight trucked some solid waste from Maine to that plant “to make sure there was nothing weird in your trash that would kill our bugs,” Stuart-Paul said.

MRC towns are obligated to deliver their trash to PERC until the end of March 2018. Stuart-Paul said Fiberight plans to have the new plant operational a few months before that.

“It’s going to be expensive to get MSW in the transition,” but it’s an expense they’ve planned for, he said.

Under the agreement, MRC towns can send their municipal solid waste to a landfill in Norridgewock in the event of delays or problems with the Fiberight plant.

“We didn’t have any backup in 1989 when we designed the agreement with PERC,” Aronson said. “We went to great pains this time to keep towns insulated from risk. We wanted to have the financing be on the vendor and not on the MRC. With this agreement, we can say to Fiberight, ‘If you can’t make it work, don’t come to us. We’ll foreclose and go to Plan B.’”

Aronson also pointed to investment from international waste firm Covanta as an independent vote of confidence in the plant’s viability. He said the Fiberight technology overlaps with some processes used in the pulp and paper industry, so contractors and workers with applicable skills are already in the region. The MRC also has reviewed Fiberight’s plans with “bioproducts” researchers at the University of Maine, he said.

Councilor Clark Stivers asked about future legal or regulatory changes that could undermine the agreement. Environmental regulations favor recycling over waste-to-energy solutions, he said.

Stuart-Paul said the plant would not technically be a “waste-to-energy” operation. Recycling is a large part of the planned operation, including a “second pass” through incoming solid waste for any recyclable material not diverted at the source. Also, he said, “the EPA qualifies anaerobic digesting as organics recycling.”

Resident Lisa Bjerke, who works on waste management or “discarded resources” for the College of the Atlantic, said “you’re still going to have sludge. That’s not recycling.”

She said she would like to see the town develop a comprehensive plan for waste management, tying together plans for a new transfer station, possible Pay As You Throw (PAYT) program, and its commitments as part of MRC.

Aronson said the MRC made sure the agreement would be compatible with municipal PAYT programs. Under the agreement, some municipal programs would be subject to MRC review, which some worry would mean veto power. “We wanted to carve out a process that can enable municipal waste-reduction programs to happen if we can make them happen,” Aronson said.

Councilor Gary Friedmann called the plan “a huge leap forward from PERC, but not the ultimate solution. I hope the council doesn’t think this is the end of the discussion. Bar Harbor can do a lot more to responsibly address this.”

He said some other countries require manufacturers to take back products at the end of their useful lives. “In our system, anything we buy at any store, we take responsibility for getting rid of. That really means the municipality takes responsibility for getting rid of it.”

He said the environmental community would prefer organic material in the waste stream be composted locally, providing fertilizer for gardening and farming and eliminating the need to transport waste long distances.

Stuart-Paul said he supports backyard composting, but “the market for compost is a fraction of the amount of organics in waste. If I started to back up on compost, I’d be out of compliance with the Department of Environmental Protection.”

There are laws that prohibit using composted waste for agriculture, he said, because it may contain harmful pathogens.

Lounder, Stuart-Paul, Reeves and others plan to continue to meet with member communities through the spring. Many towns will send the question to the voters at town meetings (See related story on page 12).

In order for the facility to be operational in time, the MRC said they must receive commitments from municipalities totaling 150,000 tons of municipal solid waste by June of this year. Bar Harbor generates approximately 6,000 tons of such waste annually.

The MRC plans to build the road and run utilities to the site this summer so Fiberight can begin construction. Permitting for the work is already underway.

UPDATE: An earlier version of this article misstated Dan McKay’s name.

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.