ELLSWORTH — The shuttered waste-to-biofuel facility in Hampden will have new owners by June 30, 2022, the Municipal Review Committee (MRC) announced following a Feb. 25 board meeting held mainly in executive session.
Board members unanimously approved a motion that authorized the board president or vice president to conduct a sale process that will lead to a final sale of the facility as a turnkey operation, to close on or before June 30.
“The MRC has really put its fist down, and now we have two things we never had before – a deadline and a resolution at that deadline,” MRC Executive Director Michael Carroll told the Islander.
Included in the motion is that MRC will submit a stalking horse bid, which is “an initial bid that sets the sale process and sets the floor,” attorney Shawn Doil of Eaton Peabody explained prior to the board vote. “We’ll see who else comes in to bid on the facility, with the idea that either the MRC will end up owning it at the end of the process or a third party will come in and outbid us.”
The MRC board has scheduled a virtual town hall meeting for Thursday, March 10, from 1:30 to 3 p.m. for its 115 member communities to learn more.
“We have finally appeared to have gotten the bondholder’s attention and, in a positive development, have appeared to come to terms to agree on a sale process,” MRC Board President Karen Fussell said.
The facility, which used new Fiberight-developed technology when it opened in mid-2019, was owned by Coastal Resources of Maine on land and infrastructure owned by the MRC. However, once the plant was up and running near capacity, it ran into financing issues and closed down in May 2020. It was placed into receivership while the MRC sought a new buyer for the $90 million facility.
That process has hit roadblocks in the last near-two years. A sale to Delta Thermo Energy was announced in January 2021 but fell through eight months later when the Pennsylvania-based company couldn’t show that it had the required financing.
Late in 2021, the MRC reopened the sale after terminating the lease with Coastal Resources of Maine. Despite some potential buyers showing interest, nothing further occurred, from potential buyers or from the bondholders placed in charge by the receivership process.
Carroll said the MRC taking ownership of the plant was always in the background.
“But it wasn’t our facility to sell,” he said. “And the bondholder chose to go in one direction, so we had to wait for that to ride out. Then we had to force our hand because it’s dragged on too long … We really played our hand at the end to get their attention [so they would] make a decision.”
If no other bid comes in above the MRC’s stalking horse bid and MRC buys the plant, there are some options for how it would operate, Carroll noted. “We would either look at partnerships or would look at, of course, the current staff that was there. And there are companies that operate these types of facilities that we could speak with,” he said. “I think the MRC would always have, with our board of directors or myself, some type of direct oversight.”
The MRC had already started to address financing the purchase in the event no buyer was found, he added, which is still a work in progress.
“We’ve been very disappointed in how this dragged out,” he said, “I think we really played our hand, and it has resulted in a resolution now of some sort. What that is, I’m not sure of, but we know one is coming and we know an end is in sight.”
The MRC handles the municipal waste for 115 member towns, which has been sent to Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. (PERC) in Orrington or to a landfill since the Hampden plant closed.
To register for the virtual town hall meeting on March 10, visit www.mrcmaine.org.