MRC still working toward sale of Hampden waste facility

BAR HARBOR — The annual meeting of the Municipal Review Committee on Dec. 15 resulted in no new information on the sale of the $90-million Hampden trash facility formerly operated by Coastal Resources of Maine. The plant has been closed since May of 2020 for lack of funds. 

“This is not the annual meeting the board had hoped for,” MRC Board President Karen Fussell said.  

Neither were there any updates after a special board meeting two days later, one in a long string of special meetings to discuss the matter, all held in executive session. 

The plant has been in receivership since its closure, with the trustee for the bondholders in control. 

“We don’t have a lot of leverage, but we’re using every bit of leverage we have to move this forward,” MRC board member Bob Butler said. 

The MRC oversees municipal solid waste disposal for its 115 member communities. The nonprofit owns the land on which the plant sits, but the facility and its contents belonged to Coastal Resources of Maine. The MRC has been struggling with finding a buyer for the plant, which uses new technology to process waste and recyclables with a goal of 80 percent diversion from landfills. 

However, since the plant closed, two-thirds of its solid waste has been sent to Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. (PERC) in Orrington to be burned to generate electricity, while the other third was sent to a landfill, the board said at its annual meeting Dec. 15. 

Pennsylvania-based Delta Thermo Energy (DTE) lost its exclusive option to buy the plant in August, after CEO Rob Van Naarden failed to secure the investment funds needed to purchase the facility. This came after DTE was named the preferred buyer in January. DTE had been chosen by the bondholders from seven potential buyers. 

The board is working with a new unnamed potential buyer but is waiting to hear from the bondholder trustee on a draft of its purchase terms, Fussell said. 

“The simple truth is there are few alternatives” to reopening the plant, Fussell said, answering critics at the annual meeting who suggested it was time for the MRC to walk away from the Hampden facility. 

“MRC stands behind the plant because we know the technology works,” she continued. “Our goals have not changed.” 

Plants in Utah and Massachusetts, using the same Fiberight technology and at a similar or larger scale than the Hampden plant, are operating successfully, board members said.  

The technology aims to isolate clean, contaminant-free recyclables from mixed waste. The byproduct of the process is made into biogas, a renewable energy byproduct, according to the Fiberight website. 

“We’re starting to see a fleet of facilities with the new approach,” MRC board member and technical adviser George Aronson said. “They’re each a little different because the technology is still emerging.” 

One representative among the 115 communities who contracted with the MRC to send their municipal waste to the new facility asked, why not stick with PERC? 

MRC Executive Director Michael Carroll said that without significant investment from PERC, the Orrington facility wouldn’t be able to accept all MRC waste, “which then creates bypass issues” like the MRC is dealing with now. The Hampden plant was built to accept up to 150,000 tons annually.  

In other business, the board reported a 6.8 percent increase in municipal waste from its members. For 2022, tipping fees are tentatively set at $77.20 per ton, not including rebates for existing and new MRC members. The MRC account holds $5.5 million, which is mainly invested, has $1.5 million cash for collateral, and $145,000 in its operating account. 

In annual elections, Aaron Huotari and Karen Fussell were reelected to three-year terms. Boothbay Region Refuse Disposal District Station Manager Steve Lewis won a third seat, formerly held by China selectwoman Irene Belanger, who did not run. James Valette, of Southwest Harbor, who owns a material research company and has publicly called for the MRC to disband, failed to secure a board seat. 

In other business, the MRC joined the Maine Municipal Association Property and Casualty pool by unanimous vote, to cover liability for its staff, the MRC board and the land the facility sits upon, which is owned by MRC. 

Anne Berleant

Anne Berleant

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Anne Berleant covers news and features in Ellsworth, Mariaville, Otis, Amherst, Aurora, Great Pond and Osborn. When not reporting, find her hiking local trails, reading or watching professional tennis. Email her at [email protected]

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