Trash group faces roadblocks

MOUNT DESERT — The group representing the solid waste disposal needs of Mount Desert Island towns is resolute in its plans to create a cutting-edge disposal system, even in the face of a series of roadblocks put up by state regulators and other interests, MDI town officials were told at a recent joint meeting.

Greg Lounder, the executive director of the Municipal Review Committee (MRC), told town leaders gathered earlier this month at the Somesville Firehouse that with the trash-to-electricity plant that its 187 member towns use slated to lose its subsidies in 2018, they have been scrambling to create an alternative waste destination. Their plans, which include construction of a waste-to-liquid-fuel plant, however, have been waylaid by state regulators, officials with the trash-to-electricity Penobscot Energy Recovery Center (PERC) and private waste management corporations, Lounder said.

Plans for the MRC’s proposed “trashanol” plant were further impeded this week when the MRC received word from the Bureau of General Services that their application for space to build the plant next to the state-owned landfill in Old Town would be denied, according to Bar Harbor public works director Chip Reeves, who serves as president of the MRC.

“Time is not on the MRC’s side right now, and we started this process three years ago,” Reeves said. “We continue to run into roadblocks and logjams as we continue to work our way through this.”

Since it opened in 1988, PERC has sold electricity at a subsidized rate of 13 cents per kilowatt hour due to legislation set up to make it a viable operation. However, those special rates are due to end in 2018, leaving PERC to sell electricity at the market rate of 4 cents per kilowatt hour. With the sharp decline in price, PERC would unable to meet its operating costs without nearly doubling the fees it charges towns to dump trash there. The MRC thus foresees the plant being forced to close at that time.

While PERC officials have made no public statements to that effect, the majority owners of the business, USA Energy, advised the MRC in writing in 2011 that it does not intend to operate the plant beyond 2018. This eventuality would leave “187 towns looking for a trash contract,” Reeves said, with basically one landfill in the state accepting municipal solid waste. That landfill is in Norridgewock.

In January of this year, MRC officials decided that their clearest path forward would be to build a trash-to-liquid-fuel plant. They studied the workings of a company called Fiberight and decided their technology would be a good fit for the area, and this month agreed to spend $20,000 for University of Maine students to scrutinize the idea.

While MRC feels they have the economics worked out and the potential trash capacity to make the plant work, they need two things: a place to build it and a place to dump what trash remains after the conversion process. It is here that the group is running into trouble.

Late last month, Maine environmental regulators announced they would reject the MRC proposal to build a landfill in Greenbush or Argyle. The reason given was that there is sufficient disposal capacity elsewhere in the state. However, MRC officials dispute this claim, and say that without their own landfill, they would be held at the mercy of private businesses, such as Casella waste management, that control landfill operations in the state.

“If PERC ends, two-thirds of the state is without an area to take their trash,” Ellsworth city manager Michelle Beal said. “The DEP said no to the landfill, so what do they expect us to do?”

Lounder said that the answer remains unclear. His group is resolute in trying to create a solution, he said, but they do not seem to be getting any help from state regulators. Further, the MRC points out, USA energy is spending a large amount of money, nearly $1 million last year, on lobbying to thwart their efforts.

“We’re going to be denied the right as a group of communities to have control of our own landfill capacity,” Lounder said. “That’s the hand we’ve been dealt. Time’s getting short.”

Following Lounder’s presentation, town officials agreed to make support of MRC efforts to resolve this issue their number one priority of the year.

Robert Levin

Robert Levin

Former reporter Robert Levin covered the people, businesses, governmental and nonprofit agencies of Bar Harbor. [email protected]
Robert Levin

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